Category Archives: Coffee Shop Talk

On Vacation!

I’m on vacation this week so I thought I would repost something from over a year ago. The 4 posts I’m sharing here are from my “Stop and Look Around” series on REST. I thought that was appropriate since it’s summer and I’m on vacation. I went back and added audio to the posts so you’re free to either read or listen to them (or both; about 35 minutes total). All four together can be listened to all at once or you can break them up and use as a 4-Day Devotional (recommended). I’ve never recorded blog posts before. I’ve only ever recorded live sermons. It was weird delivering them to myself in my office without an audience. LOL. Enjoy! See you next week!

 

1. Stop and Look Around (Click here for the written version).

 

2. Take a Nap (Click here for the written version).

 

3. Running On Empty (Click here for the written version).

 

4. Stop and Look Around 2: God Made (Click here for the written version).

Jesus Take the Wheel

Click PLAY for the audio version.

Day 1

There’s are two things I NEVER pray for. I never pray for patience. I really never pray for humility. Everybody knows that when you pray for those things you automatically get them without delay! It’s actually one of the ways you can prove that God exists. The Bible doesn’t tell us that, but we all know it. I’ve been there. And I already know God exists. So I don’t need further proof that works against me! But if you’re still young and dumb enough, go ahead and pray for patience. Just be warned that you’re going to have to do a LOT of waiting. My problem with patience is that I can’t learn it quickly! If God would just hurry up, I’d be more patient.

Don’t even get me started on humility! I’ve been humiliated enough. Thank you very much. I don’t need anymore humility! But if that’s what you really want, go ahead and pray for it. You’ll receive it instantaneously I’m sure. Those are two surefire ways to prove that God exists. Do you want to know a third one? It’s tithing. I told you from the beginning of this study that the Bible doesn’t try to prove the existence of God. It simply assumes His existence. And that’s true. God doesn’t need to prove anything. He’s already given us enough proof.

Nevertheless, if you ever need a reminder that God exists, the Bible tells us to tithe. “Now return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. But you ask, ‘How can we return when we have never gone away?’ Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me! But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’ You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” (Malachi 3:7-10 NLT).

In general, we’re not supposed to put God to the test (Deut.6:16; Luke 4:12). But there’s one exception. And that’s with tithing. God says, You want to know that I exist. Tithe! And see what happens. Unfortunately, tithing means we have to give up something. We have to give up a tenth of our hard-earned money. There is sacrifice involved in tithing. That’s why a lot of people don’t do it. And there’s a lot of reasons behind that, especially if money is tight. People think they might not be able to pay their bills or save for retirement. Or they think they might not have the cash if something crazy happens. It’s a little scary. That’s why it’s called faith. If you can see it and if you’re comfortable, it’s not faith.

That’s why no one likes to pray for patience or humility. It’s not comfortable. It’s not what people aspire to or strive for in our culture. People like to have money, power, and prestige. They don’t want to be humble or to be low on the totem pole. Everybody’s fighting to get to the top of that corporate ladder. Nevertheless, when we go through those situations that require those qualities (like patience and humility), that’s how we learn. We’ll never learn to trust God with our finances if we’ve never had to rely on Him while we pinch pennies.

Last week we started looking at the story of Noah’s Ark. And a big part of that story was learning about how to trust God THROUGH our trials. Like I said, we can’t learn how to rely on God to provide for our needs if we don’t have to. We’ll never learn humility until we’ve been humiliated. We’ll never learn patience until we’ve had to wait for something. And yes. I am borrowing from Evan Almighty again. But I do love the scene where Morgan Freeman is sharing that same advice with Evan’s wife and trying to get her to go back to him. And last week we learned about the fact that we really need to rely on God THROUGH our trials. He doesn’t promise to deliver us FROM pain and struggle. Everyone goes through pain and struggles from time to time. But He will carry us THROUGH it.

So this week, as we continue onto the Ark with Noah and his family, we’re going to look at the actual trial. And sometimes the trials take a while. That’s where patience and humility comes into play. But the Good News is that the trials don’t last forever. “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5 ESV). There’s a great song based off of that Psalm. It’s called “Your Love Never fails.” And the famous line from that song is “There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning” (McClarney and Skinner).

When we learn to trust God through a trial, our faith grows. And as our faith grows over the years, we learn a very important lesson: There are things we can’t control. And that’s what’s at the heart of most of our complaints. Why does a good and loving God allow bad things to happen to good people? We’ve been trying to answer that question since day one of this series. And we’ve been talking about faith since day one of this series. So I hope your faith is starting to get stronger. But the truth is that it won’t get stronger until we take the test! And one of the basic lessons you’ll learn during any trial is that we’re not in control!

Did you notice that there was no mention about a wheel, a rudder, or any way to steer Noah’s Ark? There was no need. That wasn’t Noah’s job. God had the wheel. Why? Because He was in control. He just wanted Noah to build the Ark, get on it, trust Him, and hang on for the ride! And it was a wild ride! And our lives are a wild ride. And they can be so much more enjoyable when we realize we’re not in control. We have to let Jesus take the wheel. He’s already in control. Any control we think we have, we don’t really have. He’s in control. And life makes so much more sense, and we have a much more enjoyable ride, when we stop being control freaks. When we let Jesus take the wheel, and when we trust Him with our lives, that’s when we can truly enjoy the ride.

Day 2

1. Pain lasts for a period of time yet we are under God’s protection as He takes the wheel.

Then the LORD said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, and seven pairs of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.” And Noah did all that the LORD had commanded him. Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came upon the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. And after seven days the waters of the flood came upon the earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark, they and every beast, according to its kind, and all the livestock according to their kinds, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, according to its kind, and every bird, according to its kind, every winged creature. They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him. And the LORD shut him in. The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days (Genesis 7:1-24 ESV).

So at this point, the Ark is built. It’s ready to go. And God tells Noah to go into the Ark. But it’s not just Noah. Noah’s whole family is going to take part in the festivities. It will be Noah, his wife (Joan of Ark), his three sons, and their wives (8 people in total). I’m just kidding about Joan of Ark. We don’t know Noah’s wife’s name. But 8 people are being saved here. In addition, we know that the animals are going to be rescued as well. God said to bring along 2 of basically everything (a male and a female) for reproduction. After the flood, the world will need to be repopulated with people, animals, birds, and all the creepy crawly bugs. So this makes sense. You need a male and a female. You need 2 to tango. However, there were some animals (the “clean” animals) that they had to bring 7 pairs of (instead of 2) for sacrifices after the flood.

Nevertheless, God gives Noah a 7-day heads up. He says in 7 days He’s going to send the flood. And it’s going to be a massive, worldwide flood. Water will come from everywhere. It’s coming from below AND from above. It’s going to rain for 40 days and 40 nights. And as you can read from this passage, the water covered everything. It had to be high enough for the Ark to float over everything, even the mountains. Remember, there was no steering wheel. They were floating and God had the wheel!

But make no mistake about it, this was a historical event. God is giving a very specific time-frame for a reason. He’s marking time here. Jesus also referred to this as a literal, historic event. “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days, the people enjoyed banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat and the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:26-27 NLT; c.f. Matt.24:37-38). Peter treated this as a historical event as well. “And God did not spare the ancient world-except for Noah and the seven others in his family. Noah warned the world of God’s righteous judgment. So God protected Noah when he destroyed the world of ungodly people with a vast flood” (2 Peter 2:5 NLT; c.f. 3:5-6; 1 Peter 3:20; Heb.11:5). So this really happened. It’s not a myth. It’s not a fairy tale. It’s not a legend. It’s history.

And it takes up a good chunk of history too. It rained 40 days and 40 nights. We know that part. But it also says that the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days. And we’ll read in our next point that it took another 150 days for the water to go down. And by the time they came out of the Ark, a whole year had passed by. In fact, it was one year and ten days to be exact. It was 370 days. It depends how you count a year. A biblical, prophetic year is 360 days. So it was one year plus ten days. Our year is 365 days. So for us it would’ve been a year and five days. But no matter how you count it, they were on the Ark for a little over a year. Nothing is quick, easy, or pain free like we expect it to be. Just ask Noah. He spent over a year on a big, stinky Ark with a LOT of animal doo-doo. I can’t stand the doo-doo of 2 cats, so I have no idea how Noah and his family got through that. It was neither easy nor pain free. But God was in charge. He had the wheel. And that leads us to our first point. Pain lasts for a period of time yet we are under God’s protection as He takes the wheel.

This was a long trial that Noah and his family had to endure. I’m sure Noah would’ve loved to have taken Nyquil so he could sleep away the pain, but Nyquil wasn’t invented yet! I don’t know about you, but over the winter when I have a nasty cold, a sore throat, and a runny nose, Nyquil is like the only thing that can get me through the night! Olivia says that I snore even worse when I have a cold. But that has never been proven. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t snore. I’ve never heard it. But seriously, no one likes pain. And it would be nice for us to never have to experience pain, but we know that’s not reality. Pain lasts for a time. And because of the nature of pain and trials, it feels like it lasts longer than it does. But it doesn’t last forever.

And praise the LORD that we have such a loving and gracious God that stands by us through the pain and trials of life. Thank God that He is with us, that He has the wheel, He’s in control, and that we’re under His protection. He’s got this! He’s bigger and more powerful than any trial or storm that comes our way. And He never asks us to perform superhuman tasks or miracles on our own. He’s the One who performs the miracles. He does what we can’t do. So we have no reason to worry, fear, seize control, or try to take the wheel. He has the wheel! All He asks us to do is trust Him! He asks us to have faith.

Noah had faith. “It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith” (Heb.11:7 NLT). So we don’t need to DO anything other than trust God through the storms. He has the wheel. We can be content during the storms. If it was God who brought on the flood, if it was God who brought the animals to Noah and onto the Ark, and if it was God who shut the door of the Ark (and it was), then we can live by faith rather than fear.

We don’t need to worry. Jesus said, “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matt.6:34 NLT; John 14:1). The Apostle Paul said, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Phil.4:6-7 NLT; 1 Cor.15:58). If God is at the wheel (and He most certainly is), we have nothing to worry about. We have nothing to fear. “What is the price of two sparrows-one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows” (Matt.10:29-31 NLT; Psalm 23).

The Wild Mouse is a ride at Hershey Park. From the ground it looks like a kiddie ride. I almost didn’t even get on because it looked so boring. But when we go on it the first time, we had to hold on for our lives! Every time we went around a corner it felt like we were going to plunge to our deaths! It was so scary! Yet as the ride went on, we realized we weren’t going to die. And we realized all the dips and twists and turns were just for a brief moment and then they were done. So the next time I got on it was actually fun. It was a piece of cake. It wasn’t so scary anymore because I had already been on it and I knew what to expect.

The storms of life are the same way. Once we’ve been down that road a few times and once we’ve learned to trust God, it’s not so bad. We can be content during the storms because we know Who’s really in control. We know Who has the wheel! That’s why I’m not worried about our church. I feel no pressure to sell out or to feel like we have to become a mega church in a short amount of time. We don’t. God is in control. He will bring people in when He’s good and ready. We just need to have faith, trust Him, and give up the wheel. He knows what’s best.

So we have permission to release that tight grip. Let the blood flow into your fingers! Let it go! Disney’s Frozen 2 is coming out in a few years. So there should also be a sequel to Let it Go. It’s should be called I’m Still Letting Go! I still can’t hold it back anymore! Once we learn to let go, we’re going to notice all the good things that we’ve been missing. There IS judgment in this story. There’s no doubt. There’s a negative side to this story. God is judging sin. He’s wiping out evil. But we can’t forget the positive. God was watching over Noah and his family. He was preserving OUR future. He was saving His people! He was thinking of us. And we weren’t even born yet!

And this story is miraculous. I get agitated when people try to explain away miracles. Even Christians try to explain away how something was possible given the right conditions. But we don’t have to explain away miracles. Isn’t that the point? A miracle is something that’s not natural at all! It’s not normal. It doesn’t happen all the time. God stepped in and flooded the earth, but He kept Noah’s family and all the animals safe inside an Ark that floated safely without a steering wheel! That’s a miracle! We can’t leave God out of the equation.

If we leave God out of the equation of our lives, we actually DO have something to worry about! My heart breaks for some of my friends. I love that we get to keep in touch through Facebook. But I get upset sometimes because I see that some of them have no interest in God at all. They are passionate about many things. And that’s great. But they’re also super confused. There was even one this week that admitted that they were disappointed and searching for purpose in their life. Unfortunately, they’re looking for satisfaction in all the wrong places.

True satisfaction and true purpose in life can only be found in Jesus. He said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10 NLT). Unfortunately, most people are following the thief and not the shepherd. And if you miss Jesus you miss the whole meaning of life. Jesus needs to take the wheel of our lives or we’re steering in the wrong direction! But when He’s at the wheel, Joy comes in the morning!

Day 3

2. Joy flows in the wake of longsuffering as we let God keep the wheel. 

But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of 150 days the waters had abated, and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen. At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground. But the dove found no place to set her foot, and she returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took her and brought her into the ark with him. He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore. In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth. And Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry. In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth had dried out. Then God said to Noah, “Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh–birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth–that they may swarm on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by families from the ark. Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 8:1-22 ESV).

Longsuffering is LONG. Patience is a quality we need if we’re going to make it through the trials. Yet given our culture, it’s really hard to be patient. We want everything now. We have everything literally at our fingertips. We can look up anything we want on our smartphones. We can order something on Amazon and get it within 2 days. And Amazon is trying to get even faster. In case you haven’t heard about it yet, they’re pushing for same day delivery by drone. We’re not a patient people in America. We want everything yesterday. And I’m guilty too.

Nevertheless, when it comes to longsuffering, there are no quick fixes. And the reason a lot of people don’t overcome their struggles (and the reason they lose their faith), is because they don’t want to put in the time. They want the quick fix. That’s the main problem I’ve seen over the years. Most people have their own plan. They’re not willing to give up control to God. They might be willing to give up an hour on a Sunday morning up to twice a month, but that’s about it. They might be willing to have coffee with the pastor and dump all of their problems on him, but they’re not willing to actually do what he recommends. They just want the quick fix. They want a blessing, a prayer, or a handout so they can be on their way.

But homey don’t play that game anymore. Why? Because it never works. Most people think that if you just help them out this one time (it usually involves giving them money), they’ll be fine. Unfortunately, that has never worked. And believe me I’ve been there. I have a bleeding heart and I like to help people. But as I get older I believe more in the philosophy that we have to not just give someone a fish to feed them for a day, but we have to teach them how to fish so they can feed themselves for a lifetime. Longsuffering is long. We have to put in the time. If we’re already on the Ark, we might as well stay on the Ark and finish the job until God says it’s over. If we jump off the Ark, we drown. There are no quick fixes or back roads. There’s the Narrow Road that leads to life and that’s it. There’s One Way: Jesus. And Noah is a great example because he did everything right. He walked with God. He was faithful. But he also had to endure trials. He waited patiently until God said it was time to get off the Ark.

I was proud of my son Ethan. There was something he really wanted a few weeks back. He wanted a new cell phone case (because the cats destroyed his) and an SD card so his phone could hold more memory. And we said we would buy it for him if he was willing to do the dinner dishes for two weeks. And we didn’t let him out of it either! I almost did a few times but he stuck it out! And there were some nights when he didn’t feel like doing the dishes. There were tears. And I feel his pain. I HATE doing the dishes. But he didn’t quit. And we didn’t give in.

It taught him a great lesson about staying the course for the long haul. He learned what it feels like to have a debt that had to be paid off. And I’m proud of him for sticking to his end of the bargain. I think it’s a great lesson for him. Some adults never learn that lesson. They feel that everything should be handed to them for free and without any effort. But that’s a bunch of crap. That’s not how life works. Longsuffering is long. There are no quick fixes in learning some of life’s toughest lessons. But when we endure, the blessings follow. There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning! God’s blessings follow faithfulness through storms.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4 NIV). So what’s the point of patiently enduring the storms? Perseverance. Spiritual maturity. The opportunity to trust God. The opportunity to prove our faith is genuine. And once we’ve been through it more than once, we’re stronger. We’re able to recognize trials. We’re able to endure each one better and stronger each time. And then we’re able to help other people going through the same things. And that leads to our final point. Joy flows in the wake of longsuffering as we let God keep the wheel. True joy and true satisfaction in life doesn’t come from a big house, expensive toys, a great career, or money. It comes through glorifying God and being on board with His plan.

But let’s go back and take a look at how Noah got off the Ark. It says, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. And Ararat is in Modern day Turkey; however, the word for mountains here is plural. Ararat is actually a mountain range that also extends to the east of Turkey and north of what was once known as Mesopotamia. Suffice it to say that no one knows the location of the Ark. It could still technically be there somewhere buried and waiting to be discovered. It could’ve been dismantled. Or it could’ve deteriorated over the years. The truth is that we don’t know where it is or what happened to it.

Yet what we do know is that the Ark came to rest somewhere in that mountain range. Unfortunately, the water level was still high. It would be almost three months until they could even see the top of the mountains. And then it says that after 40 days he opened the window and sent out a raven. And we don’t know many details. But the Raven was considered an unclean bird. Perhaps that’s why Noah sent it out first. We don’t know. However, I am still of the opinion that God is an Eagles Fan. That’s why he didn’t send out the Eagle first as a guinea pig like he did with the Raven! Needless to say, the Raven didn’t have any luck finding land. But he apparently was a tough bird and didn’t stop until he eventually did find land. But it took a while. It said he went back and forth until the water dried up.

But then it says that he sent out a dove. And the dove didn’t have any luck either so it returned. So Noah wanted another 7 days. Remember, this was not a fast process. Noah had to be patient. But after 7 days, he sends out the dove again. And this time the dove came back with an olive leaf. And that was a significant sign that the water had gone down because olive trees don’t grow at higher elevations. And doves need lower elevations for their food supply. But he still doesn’t get out of the Ark yet. He waits another 7 days and sends out the dove one more time. This time it doesn’t come back. This time the dove finds a place to live and food to eat.

So you’d think at this point they’d get out of the Ark. But they still waited. A month and a half later, Noah takes off the cover of the Ark. And he sees that the earth was dry. And then he waits longer. It wasn’t until almost 2 months later that God said they could get out. Talk about patience! So you better believe they were excited to get off that Ark! And God said be fruitful and multiply! He just wiped out the rebellious people. So now it was time to repopulate the earth.

And what does Noah do once he gets off the Ark? He builds an altar and offers sacrifices to the LORD. And God accepts his offering. He promises to not wipe everybody out again like He just did. But He also acknowledges the fact that man, in general, has a sinful nature (Eph.2:1-5). We have a natural tendency to rebel against God because of sin. But praise God, that as we repent, and as sacrifice is made, He forgives us. And He promises that life will go on. The seasons will continue. The sun will keep rising and the moon will come out at night while the earth remains. We can count on it. But sacrifice is a part of salvation.

Thank God that Jesus came and made the ultimate sacrifice. Thank God that we don’t have to continually offer sacrifices. He died once for all. He made it possible for our sins to be forgiven and for us to be restored to a healthy relationship with God. But that doesn’t mean we will have a trouble-free life. Jesus didn’t have a trouble-free life. And neither did Noah. In fact, He said, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT).

There is no better news! We know trouble will come. But take heart because Jesus has overcome the world. We just have to trust Him along the way and hang on for the ride. All we need to do is stop fighting Him. We need to let Jesus take the wheel. Joy flows in the wake of longsuffering as we let God keep the wheel. That’s another mistake I see people make all the time. Once they get what they want out of God, they walk away. They stop praying. They stop coming to church. They stop hanging out with the church. Unfortunately, that leads to a never-ending cycle. But if we let God keep the wheel through the good and the bad, we learn to walk with Him all the time, not just in times of trouble. And that’s a life well lived out in faith. So let Jesus take the wheel. In fact, let Him keep it for the long haul. And if we do that it doesn’t matter if we’re in a time of trial or a time of peace. We can have joy unspeakable (1 Peter 1:8). We can have the peace of God that surpasses all understanding (Phil.4:7). And that’s when we begin to understand that there may be pain in the night but JOY comes in the morning.

And when we have that kind of joy and peace, people notice. But where do we find the strength? How can we do it? What’s the secret? The Apostle Paul said it best. And it’s been the best kept secret for 2,000 years. “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Phil.4:11-13 NLT; Acts 4:13; 5:40-42).

Day 4

Questions to consider…

  1. How would you rate yourself when it comes to patience during a trying time in your life? Are you disheartened when things don’t work out the way you want? Have you ever been mad at God because something wasn’t working out according to your plan? Have you ever lost your faith because of that?
  2. Are you a control freak? Do you like to be at the wheel? Does it make you uncomfortable that the Ark of YOUR life doesn’t have a steering wheel? Are there parts of your life that you’d like to control and keep God out of? Have you ever looked for the quick and easy way out of a trial instead of trusting God? Do you have a preconceived idea of what your life should look like?
  3. How do you learn best? Do you learn by doing? Do you learn by reading? A lecture? Watching other people? Does it make sense that we can’t get the full experience unless we go THROUGH a trial as opposed to just reading about it or hearing about it? Who is best equipped to help someone? Is it someone who has lived through the same thing and came out stronger or someone who learned about it in school, in a book, or from a friend?
  4. One of the best applications of this message is that we need to let go and trust God. It’s not that we have a lot of religious things we need to do. Sometimes we need to go on and live our lives and be OK with the tension that comes from stress and trials while trusting that God is in control. Sometimes there’s nothing at all that we can do. We can’t buy our way out. We can’t outsmart our way out. We can’t do anything other than rely on God. How does that make you feel? What have you learned from your trials? Is there one or two in particular that has been lifechanging for you and has caused you to grow spiritually? Where did your strength come from at that time?

Do You Trust Me?

Click Play for the audio version. 

Day 1

There are plenty of examples in the Bible where God asks some of His most faithful followers to do some crazy things. When He asked Noah to build an Ark it must’ve sounded crazy at the time, especially since it had never rained. I’m sure Noah caught a lot of grief as he was building the Ark. What about Isaiah? God told Isaiah to walk around naked and barefoot for three years (Isaiah 20:2-4)! I’m sure he was the talk of the town! Yikes! I hope God never asks me to do that. I wouldn’t want to scare people. A short, fat, bald guy with a farmer’s tan is not someone that you want walking around naked through town. And let’s not forget John the Baptist. He had to live in the wilderness, wear clothes of camel’s hair, and his food was locusts and wild honey (Mark 1:6; Luke 1:80)! Can you imagine if we had to do something like that in today’s context?

I’m sure we would be arrested or carried off to the funny farm. That’s why the movie Evan Almighty is so funny. We get a modern snapshot of what Noah might’ve went through. Watching Evan make an idiot of himself in front of all his political colleagues and throwing his career down the drain is not something that any of us would look forward to. Building a huge ARK on land while you’re not anywhere near an ocean sounds absurd to the average person. But that is what God asked him to do. Sometimes He asks wild and off the wall things of His people in order to make a point.

But even though God isn’t really asking us to do anything that crazy in our day and age, He is asking us to swim upstream. He is asking us to do things that go against the grain of the conventional and accepted wisdom of our day. “This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor.1:25-29; c.f. 1 Corinthians 3:18-19). Just because something seems crazy or foolish doesn’t mean that it is. Oftentimes what WE think and what the rest of the world thinks is the opposite of what God is thinking and what He wants.

So God is asking us to trust Him even when things don’t make sense. And there are times when things absolutely do not make sense. Last week, when I shared the story of a friend of mine from High School who tragically died in a car accident, I had no idea that it would happen in our town the very next day. Last Monday we had a local boy, who just graduated from High School, die in a car accident. He was 18 years old. It’s a tragedy. It doesn’t make any sense. And even though our first tendency is to point the finger at God, we can’t blame Him. He’s not part of the problem. He’s part of the solution. He’s on OUR side. So we have to trust Him, even when things don’t make any sense.

One of my favorite scenes from that Evan Almighty film is when Morgan Freeman says, “You wanna know how to change the world son? One act of random kindness at a time.” And if you put that into our context of life on mission, it’s not all that far off! So hold on to that thought! We’ll come back to that later. But it all starts with Walking with God. That’s been our theme for the past three weeks. So today we want to look at the outcome of either walking with God for the long haul or choosing to NOT walk with God at all. That’s where our story picks up today. So today we are beginning one of the most famous stories in the whole Bible: Noah’s Ark. And our title is Do You Trust Me?

But don’t answer that question too fast! It’s easy to trust God on Sunday morning. It’s easy to trust God when things are going well. It’s a whole other ball game to trust God when life is spiraling out of control. Because of our culture, we think that somehow all the bad things should happen to someone else rather than us. We don’t say that, but we think it. We think that since we are Christians, that somehow nothing bad should ever happen to us. And that would be nice. That will be the case in heaven, but in the meantime we have to go back to the garden and realize that we are living in a sin-cursed world. We are living in the reality of a fallen world. Sin exists. Rebellion against God exists. People have the ability to choose between good and evil.

And we’re all affected. The earth is affected. The weather is affected. It’s all part of life outside the garden. I can remember back when I first moved out of my parents’ house. I loved the freedom. I loved being on my own, being able to stay out as late as I wanted, and making my own choices. But do you know what I didn’t like? I didn’t like paying bills, doing the dishes, doing my laundry, being in debt, and going to work all the time. Unfortunately, when we achieve freedom, we have to accept all that goes along with that freedom. But now, years later, I’ve moved on and accepted that as part of life outside my parents’ house.

So it always comes back to the question of Do we really trust God? It’s a matter of the F word. It’s the five letter F word though: Faith. And that’s what we want to explore this week as we begin our study on Noah’s Ark. And since the whole story spans five chapters, we can’t cover it all in one shot. We’ll take about four weeks to tackle the whole sequence. And each week we’ll pull out practical lessons in order to apply it to the here and now. But today we will ask the question of Do we really trust God. Even when things aren’t going the way we want, Do we really trust God? And if we do, what do we do about it? What can we do to apply this story in terms of being on mission and walking with God?

Day 2

1. Since God created man, He has the right to judge and sentence man in his rebellion.

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them” (Gen.6:1-7 ESV).

There has never been a shortage of interpretations as to what these verses mean. But the main questions people normally ask concern who these sons of God and daughters of man are. And what is God referring to when He mentions the 120 years? And who are the Nephilim? But I believe the answers are very simple. I believe the context gives it away. And that’s usually the case with many issues in life. The simplest solution is usually the correct answer. Yet that never stops people from letting their imaginations run wild, especially with the the Bible.

So when it comes to the sons of God, daughters of man, and the Nephilim, some people tie it all together and think that somehow fallen angels intermingled with earthly women and created some kind of giant, superhuman creatures as their offspring (the Nephilim). And that could be. But there’s no evidence of that. I believe that the better interpretation here has to do with what we just learned. The author of Genesis just painstakingly went through Cain’s descendants and Seth’s descendants in the preceding chapters. So I believe that the simple explanation is that this passage connects with the previous passages we just looked at.

And over time, what happened was that the godly line of Seth intermingled and intermarried with Cain’s family line (the ungodly line). So as a result, they all became corrupt and rebellious against God. Obviously, there was a lot of sexual perversion going on as well. They were taking whoever they wanted as wives and they were not following God. Furthermore, it says that God put a number on their days (120 years) because He wasn’t going to put up with them much longer. And that 120 years could be a reference to the fact that man wasn’t going to live as long anymore. There would be no more people living 969 years. That could be. Although I think the better explanation is that He was giving Noah 120 years to finish building the Ark and then He was going to bring on the flood. But again, we don’t know for sure. It could be both!

And as for the Nephilim, I also believe that the context gives us the answer. It just says that they were on the earth at that time (and even after the flood) and that they were the famous and mighty men. Yet because of how this is being described, it doesn’t sound like a compliment from God. It sounds like these guys were particularly evil and corrupt. The word Nephilim means fallen ones. So I believe that He’s simply talking about corrupt, rebellious, and evil people that were in positions of power, hence the name fallen ones.

The point here, however, is the fact that man has become corrupt and God was grieved. He points out the fact that He’s sorry He made man in the first place. So if there was some kind of angelic and demonic activity going on I believe God would be focusing on their judgment, not on the judgment of man. And that brings us to our first point. Since God created man, He has the right to judge and sentence man in his rebellion. Think about it. If God created us and the world, He gets to make the rules and the decisions. It’s not our call.

Do you know what gets on my nerves? What gets on my nerves is when people complain about something that they have no intention of doing anything about. Churches are famous for that. It’s why a lot of people don’t go to church anymore. They’ve seen the dark side! They’ve seen the politics. They’ve seen people beating up other people for power. And that’s why WE don’t do politics. That’s why we don’t vote on the color of the carpet or have endless committee meetings. We make the best decision we can and we get stuff done. We don’t play politics. We don’t do committees. I’m of the opinion that the hungriest one cooks. So if someone wants something done a certain way, they should be the one to do it!

But that’s what man does with God. We complain and we get mad at God for not doing our will, even though it’s not our world. But we’re NOT the creator. We’re NOT the judge. If God created the world, He gets to make the rules. And He gets to BREAK the rules. That’s what miracles and grace are all about! But if we break God’s rules, we do have to accept the consequences. And because evil exists, we can’t expect everything to be perfect all the time. Both good and evil exist. And unfortunately, it’s messy. It affects all of us.

Yet we have no right to complain about it because we all sin. We rebel against God all the time. Granted, there is a difference between struggling with sin and purposely being evil all the time. The equivalent to the Nephilim in our time would be terrorists, evil dictators, people who use their money and power for their own selfish benefit regardless of how it affects other people. Pure evil exists in this world. Watch the news if you don’t believe me. It’s there. People buy and sell people for sex. People hurt people in so many unspeakable ways (rape, murder, torture, etc.). It’s unbelievable. It’s disgusting. It’s evil. And Satan and His demons ARE involved.

Just read the book of Job and you’ll learn what goes on behind the scenes that we can’t see. So we have to know where to place the blame. It’s not God’s fault. It’s not right to get mad at Him and blame Him because of evil and tragedy. He’s not the problem. And yes He can help us. He can fix this mess. He has a plan. We don’t always know what that plan is or the reasoning behind it. But it always comes down to that F word: Faith. We have to trust God’s judgment.

What we can do, and what we can control, is our own actions. We can choose to fight evil with good. And we CAN cry out to God. Jesus said, “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:7-8 ESV). What will it be like when Jesus comes back? Will He find a similar situation like in Noah’s time? Will He find everyone doing evil? Will He find faith when He returns? I hope so!

And what about when the rapture does happen? When Jesus does come to take His bride (the church) to be with Him, will anyone notice? Will there be enough believers missing for people to notice? I hope so! That’s a great question for a church to ask as well. Would anyone miss us if we were gone? I hope that as we start to make our presence known in the community that it will be a good and positive impression. It is my prayer that we get so involved in this community and bring so much Good News that if Jesus did come back, people would miss us!

Day 3

2. Since God created man, He has the right to forgive and save man in his repentance. 

But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (Gen.6:8-13 ESV).

You’ve got to love it when there’s a BUT in the Bible! God is sorry He made man. So He’s going to wipe them out! BUT this one guys seems like a good guy. So we have an exception to the rule. Everyone is corrupt except for Noah. It says that Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD…Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. While everyone else was evil, perverted, and violent, Noah was the real deal. He was a good guy. Olivia always makes fun of me when I make a new friend. Every time I meet someone new and I come home and tell Olivia about it she asks if he is a good guy, because that’s what I usually say. He’s a good guy. And Noah is definitely a good guy. If God Almighty says he’s a good guy, he’s a good guy.

So here again we have someone else walking with God. Noah has a great relationship with God. He has a healthy spiritual life. He’s in tune with what God wants. So God is going to make an exception for Noah. God said He’s going to wipe the canvass clean and start over again except for Noah. So God reveals to Noah what He’s about to do. And the implication is that Noah will be saved. And that leads to our second point. Since God created man, He has the right to forgive and save man in his repentance. This doesn’t mean that Noah never sinned. Jesus is the only One to accomplish that. We’re all fallen with a sinful nature. But it’s clear that Noah walked with God, as opposed to everyone else who was NOT walking with God.

The Bible says, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Eph.2:8-10 NLT). We can only be saved through God’s grace. We do have to turn from our sins. We have to place our faith in Jesus. But He saves us. We’re not saved by our own good works. We already learned that our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). We can’t earn salvation. It’s a gift from God.

And because God is the creator, He gets to decide if there’s an exception to the rule. He gets to say even though everyone is corrupt, I’m going to save Noah and his family. And that’s Good News. We have a loving and gracious God that WANTS to save us. And that’s why Jesus came! That’s why Jesus left the comforts of heaven, moved into our neighborhood, and died for our sins. We are a rebellious people. We constantly go off and do our own thing apart from God. But God keeps calling us back. He keeps coming after His lost sheep.

Therefore, we have to trust God and His plan of salvation no matter how dark the clouds look on the horizon. And we have to stop asking the wrong questions. How can a loving God allow bad things to happen to good people? In asking that, we think that either God isn’t powerful enough to stop evil or that maybe He doesn’t exist. But it’s the wrong question. God knows our pain. Jesus is God in the flesh. He lived among us. He knows what it feels like to be tired, hungry, sick, and betrayed. He knows what suffering feels like. He was beaten. He was nailed to a cross. He feels our pain. He understands. “Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?” (Romans 8:32 NLT).

So if Jesus wasn’t spared suffering, there must be another explanation. The real question is Do We Trust God? If this was all there was, I might be a little concerned, but we know this isn’t it. This is just the beginning. We have all of eternity to be pain free and tear free. So as we’re here, fighting this spiritual battle, let’s trust God through the process. We have such a loving and gracious God that won’t wipe everybody out. Think about that.

Think about when you were young and went on vacation with your family. Did you ever get lost? What if it was time to go and your parents said, You know what, we have three of our four kids. That’s good enough. Let’s go home. I could NEVER do that with my kids! I’m quite fond of all four! I’m not going anywhere without them. And that’s how God feels. For those that are His children, He’s not leaving any of them behind! He’s going to save His kids!

Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. And God had every right to step in and save him. Since God created man, He has the right to forgive and save man in his repentance. But He’s only saving the ones who come to Him in faith. I know some churches teach universal salvation, but it’s not biblical. And this story proves it. The story of Lot, a little later in the book of Genesis proves it. The book of Revelation proves it. Jesus talked about HELL a lot. It’s a real destination. But God won’t send His children there. In fact, He doesn’t send anyone there. It’s a choice we make when we decide to NOT walk with God.

Day 4

3. Since God created man, He has the right to carry out His plan even if it seems ridiculous. 

“Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. Make it with lower, second, and third decks. For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive. Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them.” Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him (Gen.6:14-22 ESV).

If God was going to start over, why didn’t He just speak it, wipe everyone out, start over, and let Noah and his family be? Why in the world would Noah, since He was walking with God, have to endure this? They ended up spending quite a bit of time on that Ark. It couldn’t have been easy or comfortable. I think we forget sometimes, when we’re going through struggles, that everyone else goes through struggles too. Sometimes we all feel like everyone else’s life is great and we’re the only ones who struggle. I’ve been there. It’s not true though. Everyone has struggles. We might not all have the SAME struggles, but we all struggle and suffer in different ways, even if we are walking with God. Unfortunately, it’s part of life outside the garden.

So again, we’re asking the wrong questions. If Jesus suffered and other people suffer, we’re going to be suffering as well. But it’s not all bad. We have God on our side. And the point is that we don’t go through it alone. So instead of being delivered FROM our trials, God delivers us THROUGH our trials.  And believe me, it’s so much sweeter suffering while we’re walking with God than apart from Him. I can’t imagine living without the hope and comfort of knowing God is with us. “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:17-21 ESV).

Did you catch that one phrase? Noah and his family were brought safely THROUGH water. They weren’t saved FROM the trial. God was with them and delivered them THROUGH the trial. So asking why does a loving God allow suffering or evil is not the right question. We already know that’s a part of life outside the garden. The question is Do we trust Him to deliver us through the trials? I can’t count the number of times I messed that up. It’s like the pot calling the kettle black. I’ve screwed it up a thousand times. I’ve questioned God. I’m guilty.

But God has delivered me and my family through so many trials that I have no excuse for doubting anymore. How about you? He’s been with us every step of the way. And He always comes through. He always provides. He always delivers. But it’s always THROUGH the trials and THROUGH the storms. He doesn’t take the pain away. He doesn’t take the storm away. But He’s with us every step of the way! Praise the LORD! And yes, He has asked us to do some crazy things along the way. We’ve moved so many times I’ve lost count. We’ve done things that don’t make sense. But we’ve also witnessed the miracles that He’s done in the process.

For us, it’s usually financial. It made no sense that right before we moved to plant our first church, that Olivia got laid off. In our mind and in our plan, that was supposed to help finance the move and keep us afloat until the church got up and running. But we knew that it was God’s plan so we moved anyway. And even with NO reportable income, our landlord still rented to us. We told him what we were doing and he was on board. And God provided every step of the way. The same thing happened the second time around when I started looking for jobs here. We knew God was calling us here. I found a bus driving job almost immediately. My future boss turned out to be a believer and basically offered me a full-time driving job on the spot over the phone. And not only that, he saved it for me until we were ready to move a month and a half later.

But then it made no sense that once we moved down here, it took our house in Enola forever to sell and our renters for our York house moved out not even a month after we moved. We thought they were going to buy the house, but all of a sudden they moved, stiffed us on a LOT of rent, and left the house a mess. It cost us a lot of money and time getting it ready to sell. Both houses took like 4 months to sell while every other house was selling almost immediately. We took a loss when it seemed everyone else was making money. So we were left with two mortgages, bills on three houses, and had no idea how we were going to pay for THIS house.

I can’t even do that math! It was so stressful. But somehow God made sure every bill got paid, even though it made no sense to us. And He continues to pay every bill. Somehow it always works out. So could it be that God doesn’t want to deliver us FROM our trials, but that He does want us to TRUST Him THROUGH our trials? I think so. So why do we doubt? Why do we question Him? Why do we get mad at Him? He’s just asking us to TRUST Him. And that leads to our final point. Since God created man, He has the right to carry out His plan even if it seems ridiculous. It doesn’t have to make sense to us. If it made sense, we’d probably take the credit and not give God a second look. At this point in my life, even though it gets even harder, I have to force myself to stop asking the wrong questions and just trust God. To be honest, the trials won’t end until we’re with God in heaven. They’re going to keep coming. We just need to trust Him as He asks us to do crazy things.

I’m sure Noah thought building an Ark was crazy. This was like the world’s first cruise ship. There had never been a flood or rain before. So building a giant Ark, where there was no ocean in sight, sounded silly. If you convert this to modern measurements, a cubit was about 18 inches. It was the length of a man’s arm from his elbow to the tip of his middle finger. So I guess flipping people the bird meant something else back then! They were just measuring!

But the Ark was 450 feet long and 75 feet wide. It was like a football field and a half, or 20 basketball courts, or 36 tennis courts. It had the capacity of approximately 522 railroad cars. And it was taller than a three-story building. If your curious, a recreation of Noah’s Ark has been done. It’s been open for about a year in Kentucky. And it’s called the Ark Encounter. So if you want to get a real handle on the size of the ark, what life would’ve been like, and experience the awe of it yourself, go visit the Ark Encounter!

Nevertheless, the point here is that God was asking Noah to do something unheard of and to experience something that was going to be anything but convenient! God never promised us a life of ease. He does, however, promise to deliver us THROUGH our trials rather than from them. And since He’s God, He has the right to carry out His plan even if it seems ridiculous. And when He does, He does it in style! In fact, people are STILL talking about Noah’s Ark today!

So what is God asking YOU to do that’s crazy? Do you trust God with whatever period of life you are in? Things might be going smooth. They might be a little rough. But the important part is that we’re walking with God and we’re trusting Him along the way. Before we go, I want to issue a challenge. I wrote a two-week devotional a few months ago called  “Living the Blessed Life.” Click on that title and read it; however, I mainly want you to focus on the first two days of the writing.

Those first two days focus on blessing people. I said my favorite scene from the Evan Almighty movie was the one where God told him how to change the world. He said it was one Act of Random Kindness (ARK) at a time. And he wasn’t far off. It has to be put in the context of God, the Bible, and life on mission for Jesus, but he’s right. If everyone of us would look outside of ourselves and think of even one person each week that we could bless, we could change the world. We could be Good News to people who are asking those questions about where God is and why He allows bad things to happen to good people.

We could be the Good News they are looking for if we simply take the time to bless someone, to do a seemingly random act of kindness. However, we don’t want it to be random. We want it to be deliberate! It’s more of a loving act of focused kindness, but Acts of Random Kindness has a better ring to it! So think about that. Think about who God is asking YOU to bless, especially when it comes to people in your life that don’t know Jesus.

Jesus never called us to be super religious or holier than thou. He never said to hide in a church building. He told us to love our neighbor as ourselves. But we can’t just know that information and smile as we agree. We really have to go out and DO it. It could be the first step in bringing someone to the faith. It could be the first step in restoring someone’s faith. It could be the first step in making sure Jesus does find faith on earth when He returns.

Day 5

Questions to consider…

  1. Have you ever questioned God? Have you ever wondered why He was doing something to you and not giving you a free pass? Does this message help to answer that question?
  2. What is the first thing you do in a trial? Do you complain? Do you rely on yourself? Do you pray? Do you get upset with God? Do you rely on God?
  3. Up to this point in Genesis do you agree that both good and evil exist? Do you think God has the right to judge evil? Or do you think everyone should be saved regardless of their choices?
  4. Do you think it’s fair that some people seem to get more of a free pass from God than others? Does it seem fair that He chooses some people over others? Why do some people achieve great success while other people seem to struggle all their lives? As a believer, do you feel you deserve and/or have earned your salvation in some way? Read Romans 9:14-28 and Eph.2:8-10. Discuss whether this helps to answer your questions or gives you more questions on this subject.
  5. Does it make sense that our faith and our love for God grows as we struggle and trust Him THROUGH the trials rather than Him keeping us from struggles? Is an untested faith really genuine faith?

 

 

Going the Distance

Day 1

Showing up is a big deal. Up until now, in my 41 years of life, I’ve had a lot of jobs. And some of them allowed me sick days and vacation days. And that’s a good thing. Yet some of them didn’t allow sick days. As a bus driver in PA we didn’t get sick days. We could take a day off if we absolutely had to for medical reasons. But if we took a day off we didn’t get paid. In MD it’s a little more relaxed because we have substitute drivers available; however, we still don’t get paid if we don’t work. At least I don’t. That’s why I always carry a puke bucket with me on the bus. I’ve had plenty of days where I was sick, and I didn’t know which end it was going to come out of. Sometimes there was the threat of both! But I still showed up to work.

So showing up is a big deal if we want to accomplish something. On the other hand, if our heart’s not in it and we’re not willing to put forth effort, we probably won’t achieve much even when we DO show up. For someone like Cal Ripken Jr, he didn’t get the title of Iron-Man handed to him. He gave it everything he had. His heart and body bled baseball 24/7 for many years. And he has the career to prove it. You don’t break records like the one he broke with minimal effort. He went way above and beyond what most people would do.

Tom Brady would be another good example of someone who’s not a flash in the pan or a one-hit-wonder. Tom Brady has stood the test of time. And he has 5 Super Bowl Championship Rings to prove it! I believe this past year was his 15th year as a starter in the NFL. And that’s not normal. It’s hard enough to make it to the NFL level, let alone be successful at it. But most players only survive a handful of seasons at best. Not many players can say they’ve made it 15 years. And he’s not even done yet. He’s STILL playing! He’s STILL winning. He’s certainly in it for the long haul. He’s going the distance. He shows up. HE works hard. He’s successful at it.

People are already calling him the greatest quarterback of all time even though he hasn’t even retired yet. I was reading an article about him on Facebook a week or two ago. And the title of the article intrigued me because one of his former coaches (Bill O’Brien) said it was hard to coach him. I thought that was going to be a negative thing. I thought maybe the article would say that he was a Prima Donna, a jerk, or hard to work with. But it was the opposite. He said that Brady was hard to coach because there’s no one else like him. He actually wants coached ALL the time. Even though he’s the greatest of all time, he always tries to get better. He keeps working hard. He keeps perfecting his craft. And then Bill O’Brian said that it’s difficult to coach other people after you’ve coached Tom Brady because no one else even comes close to his level of dedication. There is no higher compliment that you could give someone.

Even his latest Super Bowl win proves that he’s in it for the long haul. He’s willing to go the distance. Anyone else would’ve given up by the end of the third quarter because they were losing so bad. In fact, I almost went to bed. I thought the game was over. But then the fourth quarter happened. And then all of a sudden it was a tie game. And then all of a sudden it was over time! And then they scored and won the game. It was so inspiring to watch Him (and his team) stay calm, stay in the game, and come back to win.

Last week’s message and this week’s message are tied together. Last week we learned some good tips on Walking with God. And we looked at the more negative example of Cain. This week we’re still talking about walking with God. But we’re taking it to the next level. So this week we’re talking about Going the Distance. A lot of evangelical churches talk a lot about coming to the faith. And that’s a good thing! We do need to put our faith in Jesus. We need to get baptized as believers. We need to get plugged in to God’s church. But it doesn’t stop there.

So today we want to continue to look at what it looks like to walk with God. But we also want to focus on our story. We all have a story of how we came to the faith. And if you haven’t officially come to the faith yet, I’d be honored to show you how to do that. That is the joy and passion of my life. But we also want to look at our story beyond that. We want to look at how our lives have changed since coming to the faith. And we even want to look into the future!

Many times, as I’m reading through the Old Testament I wonder what the Bible would say about me if I was in there. Have you ever thought that? “Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel” (2 Chronicles 33:1-2 ESV). If that was said about me in the Bible, I think I would have a heart attack. I wouldn’t want that to be my life’s legacy. Would you?

However, Manasseh’s Grandson fared much better. “Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, and walked in the ways of David his father; and he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left” (2 Chronicles 34:1-2 ESV). Which one of these kings would YOU rather be? I’m picking Josiah! So as we dive into Genesis chapter 5 this week, I want us all to think about our own story. Your story of how YOU came to the faith might help someone else come to the faith one day. But we should also think about our story SINCE we came to the faith. And what about the future? Where do you see your faith story going 5 years from now? 10 years from now? 20 years from now? It’s OK to think about it if we’re in it for the long haul. It’s OK to have dreams about what God’s going to do in your life. I have dreams for the future, not just for me personally, but also for my new church. In the church planting world, we call it vision. And that’s a good thing to have if we’re in it for the long haul, if we want to go the distance.

Day 2

1. Even though walking with God in our own likeness ends with death, we can seize each day we have left and make it count for all eternity. 

This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died. When Seth had lived 105 years, he fathered Enosh. Seth lived after he fathered Enosh 807 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died. When Enosh had lived 90 years, he fathered Kenan. Enosh lived after he fathered Kenan 815 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enosh were 905 years, and he died. When Kenan had lived 70 years, he fathered Mahalalel. Kenan lived after he fathered Mahalalel 840 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Kenan were 910 years, and he died. When Mahalalel had lived 65 years, he fathered Jared. Mahalalel lived after he fathered Jared 830 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Mahalalel were 895 years, and he died. When Jared had lived 162 years he fathered Enoch. Jared lived after he fathered Enoch 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Jared were 962 years, and he died (Gen.5:1-20 ESV).

I have to be honest. Sometimes I get bored and skip over genealogies. Sometimes I forget how important they are. Perhaps you are guilty of that as well. But there are some things we do have to keep in mind especially considering the genealogy we’re looking at today. First of all, these are not exhaustive. The whole point of the genealogies are to connect some of the major characters and stories together that the author wanted to bring out. So when it says such and such fathered such and such who fathered such and such, we need to know that they’re only mentioning the ones they wanted to mention for the point of the story. Some names are left out.

So fathered can also mean that they were descendants (in general). It doesn’t have to mean the actual father. It could’ve been Grandfather, Great Grandfather, and/or the like. But the point here is to contrast the godly line of Seth from the ungodly line of Cain. Eventually, through the godly line of Seth, that promised offspring (from Genesis 3:15) will be born. He is the One that will crush the head of the serpent and overcome our sin problem. And that descendant is Jesus. So the ultimate point of the genealogies (as with the point of the entire Bible) is Jesus.

The other notable mention in this genealogy here is the fact that the author points out, not just that people were born and lived incredibly long lives, but that these particular people also died. It’s sounds bizarre to us that these guys would’ve lived that long but there’s no actual reason to think these are not literal ages. Genesis is pretty much a straightforward narrative story being told. So there would be no reason to think that even though the entire rest of the book is literal, that somehow the numbers of their lives are figurative.

In fact, you can take note that people’s life-spans start to get shorter as you read through the rest of the book of Genesis (after the flood). So there’s no reason to not believe that before the flood people lived longer. And then after the flood, their life-spans were shorter. Usually it’s obvious when the Bible is using figurative language, like in the book of Revelation; however, the writer of Genesis is not using figurative language. In fact, even in Revelation when the author uses figurative language, he’s doing it to prove a literal point.

Nevertheless, death is a result of the Fall (Rom.5:12; 1 Cor.15:22). That’s the point the writer is bringing out here. And the rest of the Bible does point out what we would consider to be a normal life-span. “Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10 NLT). So if the Bible recognizes and assumes both truths (the pre-flood long life spans and post flood shorter life spans), there shouldn’t be a problem accepting it, even if we don’t know why.

But that does bring out two important questions that people seem to ask. One person asked me not too long ago, So did all of these guys know each other if they lived that long? Did they talk? Did they hang out? And the short answer is yes. You might have to do some of the math, but if their life-spans crossed over there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t have interacted. The second question people ask is also a good one. Who did these people marry? And the short answer is that they married close relatives. Since everyone came through Adam and Eve, that’s how it would’ve had to have been at the beginning. Eventually God put laws in place to prevent that, but it wasn’t the case at the very beginning. It said that Adam had other sons and daughters.

So how can we apply this to our own lives? Death is not a pleasant thing to think about, but we all know that we have an appointment with death one day (Heb.9:27). Yet we also know that until that happens, we all have a good 70-80 years (unless our lives are cut short for whatever reason) to make the most of the time that we do have. Even though walking with God in our own likeness ends with death, we can seize each day we have left and make it count for all eternity.

The Bible says that in the beginning, God created man in His own likeness, in His own image. Unfortunately, that image was marred by sin in the Fall. Man is still created in the image of God, but it’s not a perfect image anymore. So that’s why it says that when Adam had Seth, it was in his image, in Adam’s image. So we all have a fallen, rebellious, and sinful nature. And we all have to face death one day. But that doesn’t mean we just wait to die. We have lives to live! We can run the race with endurance (Heb.12:3).

It has been said that the Christian life is like a marathon. It’s not the 50-yard dash. It’s going to take some time and effort. Whenever I feel like time is going slow, it’s usually because I’m bored. On the other hand, when you’re doing something fun and fulfilling it goes by quickly! And that’s another reason why we need to make the most out of every day. We don’t get 930 years like Adam did. At best, we get 70-80 years. So we need to squeeze the most out of every day we have. We don’t need to focus on the days we don’t have.

I was thinking about a class-mate of mine from High School this past week. We weren’t close friends, but we were friends. We had similar interests and talents. She was a gifted singer and actress. She had her whole life ahead of her. Yet tragically, she died in a car accident. Her life was snuffed out just like that in High School. I actually had a few friends in High School who passed away. They didn’t get that 70-80 years. It’s a tragedy. But what would be more of a tragedy, is if I had those 70-80 years and I wasted them on myself. I know it’s a morbid thought but I think about it every few years. I feel obligated to do something with my life because I’m blessed with life. And I’m blessed with a good one. So I don’t want to waste it.

And in Christ, we know what our mission is. And it’s incredibly fulfilling when we do it. It’s an honor to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. So let’s fight the good fight. And it is a fight. Satan doesn’t go after lazy, dead Christians. He goes after the ones that are on fire for Jesus! “Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses” (1 Tim.6:12 NLT). There is no greater purpose in life than to be all in for Jesus and on mission. We can only hope that one day right before we die, we’ll be able to say (like the Apostle Paul), that “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful” (2 Tim.4:7 NLT; c.f. Phil.3:14).

I was talking to some of our folks last Sunday before the Gathering about our wall in the hallway that we recently finished with lots of family photos. And when I say we, I mean mostly Olivia. She did most of the work. I mainly held the hammer and handed nails. But when I look at some of those pictures and when I see all that we’ve done and all the places we’ve visited, it’s crazy to realize how fast it has gone by. When I look at my kids, I still see the little tiny baby in the hospital. I still think of them as little toddlers. But then I blink my eyes and realize they’re all growing up so fast! So you better believe I don’t want to miss anything! Our lives in Christ are the same way. It goes by so fast. We need to make the most of every day! Even though walking with God in our own likeness ends with death, we can seize each day we have left and make it count for all eternity.

Day 3

2. Even though walking with God isn’t the most popular choice of our day, it is anything but boring. 

When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him (Gen.5:21-24 ESV).

So the point of this section is the complete opposite of the previous section. In all the other cases someone fathered such and such and lived such and such years, and then they died. But Enoch never died. It says that God took him. He didn’t die like the rest of his ancestors. The only thing we’re really told about Enoch is that he walked with God. The name Enoch actually means dedication. So the fact that he walked with God fits his name. He was dedicated to God. He had a great relationship with God. Enoch had a great spiritual life. He walked with God.

“Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:4-6 ESV; Gal.5:16). There’s a HUGE difference between walking with God and living our lives for ourselves. If something was written about YOU in the Bible, wouldn’t it be awesome if it said that YOU walked with God? The last thing we would want it to say is that WE did evil in the sight of the LORD or that we chose NOT to walk with God.

And I know it might not sound exciting in the here and now to play by the rules, but God wants us to walk with Him. A lot of times when I ask people to share their story, they get scared. Everyone has probably heard that dramatic testimony of the alcoholic or drug addict that went to prison, found Jesus, and then got out and saved the world. So when someone who doesn’t have a dramatic testimony is asked to share their story they get all apologetic and say I don’t have a story like that. I can’t get up and share because my story is boring. But trust me, it’s not boring. From what I’ve seen and heard, the people with the dramatic stories would rather have a boring story to tell. They had to live through hell on earth so they’d rather have the non-exciting story. Even though walking with God isn’t the most popular choice of our day, it is anything but boring. Believe me, I’d rather be able to say that I walked with God for 300 years. The more exciting stories of the Bible might take up more space, but they’re also filled with a lot more drama, pain, struggle, and shame.

To be dedicated to God and walking with God is a GOOD thing. And both kinds of stories are needed. We need the dramatic stories to inspire those who are down on their luck. They need to know that there is hope. And there is hope! But the people who are walking with God can also have an exciting story to tell because they’re probably the ones reaching out to and helping the ones with the dramatic story. Both are needed. We need people who are faithfully walking with God. There’s no other way to find those lost sheep that Jesus wants us to find.

So Enoch is a good example. He’s not boring. It’s actually quite exciting if you think about how he was taken out of the land of the living and taken straight to heaven. The same thing happened to Elijah. He didn’t die either. God took him too (2 Kings 2:11). And if we’re lucky enough to be alive at the time, those of us who are sitting here might be lucky enough to experience the same thing. Right before the end of time as we know it, Jesus is going to return.

And the Bible says that we who are alive at that time will be caught up together with Jesus, in the clouds, and we will be with Him forever (1 Thess.4:17; 1 Cor.15:51-55). We call that the rapture. And that’s NOT boring. “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb.11:5-6 ESV). Enoch is someone who truly LIVED, and in the end he never had to die.

In Christ, even though we know we will most likely have to die physically, we also know we will live forever with Him (John 11:25). The point, however, is that true living is walking with God. And that’s something we can all do now. We don’t have to wait until we get to heaven to walk with God. We can start right now. Jesus died so we could LIVE, not so that we would wait to die or waste our lives. He wants us to really LIVE now! He wants us to walk with Him. “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31-32 NIV).

And what did He tell us to do as we walk with Him? He gave us one mission. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt.28:18-20 NIV). Jesus never told us to be super religious or holier than thou. He never said, Clean up your act first and then follow Me. He said, Go and make disciples. Go tell other people about Me so we can all walk together. Our mission as a church is connecting with God and with people. God doesn’t want religion. He wants us to walk with Him for the long haul. He wants us to go the distance together.

So having a boring testimony is a GOOD thing! You could be a part of someone’s else boring testimony and bring them along to heaven with you someday! You could be a part of someone else’s exciting testimony and bring them along to heaven with you someday! But we’ll never know if we’re not walking with God and we’re not on mission. If we’re on mission, our lives will be anything but boring or predictable. It will be a WILD ride! Believe me, Satan doesn’t waste his time attacking dead churches and dead Christians. He pours his heart into derailing people and churches who are on mission. So we’re in a spiritual war (Eph.6:12-20)! And it’s anything but boring! Walking with God is not popular, but it is anything but boring!

Day 4

3. Even though walking with God doesn’t always yield the results we desire in the here and now, we could be a part of bringing peace to the storms of other people’s lives in the future. 

When Methuselah had lived 187 years, he fathered Lamech. Methuselah lived after he fathered Lamech 782 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Methuselah were 969 years, and he died. When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” Lamech lived after he fathered Noah 595 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Lamech were 777 years, and he died. After Noah was 500 years old, Noah fathered Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Gen.5:25-32 ESV).

This is also a huge contrast from last week. Last week we were looking at Cain’s family tree. And it ended with someone named Lamech as well. In fact, there are a bunch of similar names between the two family trees. But the results of their lives are very different. The Lamech from Cain’s family tree continued to follow the same dark path as Cain, and he killed somebody. In fact, he bragged about killing! But this Lamech, from Seth’s family line, had a very special father and son. His father was Methuselah. Methuselah gets the credit for being the oldest person on record in the Bible. He lived 969 years! That’s a long time! I want to live 969 years!

He lived longer than Adam did. And if you do the math, he died in the same year the flood began (Gen.5:25, 28; 7:6). So Lamech had a special father. But he also had a special son. His son’s name was Noah. And Noah means rest or relief. In this case, it also means comfort. Unfortunately, he never got to experience the comfort that his son would bring. He certainly played a role in his upbringing I’m sure. But he never got to see his famous son in action in one of the most well-known stories/events in the whole Bible (Noah’s Ark). He did live to be 777 years old but he also died before the flood.

Nevertheless, Lamech was living by faith and he knew what would happen. He said, “Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” Even though walking with God doesn’t always yield the results we desire in the here and now, we could be a part of bringing peace to the storms of other people’s lives in the future. God knows, but we never know what the results of what our walk with Him will be. Sometimes He lets us see some of the fruit and sometimes He doesn’t. Yet even though we might not see the results of our life’s work, that doesn’t mean that what we’re doing isn’t important or that we shouldn’t do it.

Our American culture is like McDonald’s. We want everything fast and now. And we expect it to be perfect. If they get our order wrong, we go right to Facebook and let the world know how crappy a certain McDonald’s is and how bad the service was. I always go to the same McDonald’s. And I think it’s great. But I checked out their Facebook page and it’s filled with complaints. People are intense about their fast food! And they don’t care who they step on to get served. It’s crazy. So I went on there and gave a 5 star review and thanked them for their friendly staff. And I said, Keep up the good work. Can you imagine if everyone did that?

Can you imagine if everyone went to their local store they frequent and actually gave them a compliment rather than complaining? Just imagine if we reached out to the staff and served them instead of having them always serve us. That’s why we tried to adopt different places in our previous church. We adopted the local elementary school and police department. We just tried to do little things to let them know we appreciated what they were doing.

I hope we can do that in our new church with the local fire department and the local schools. I think that would be a great way to start to build a good relationship with our community. And you never know what the results will be. Everything we do has an impact whether it’s good or bad. So I’m hoping we can strive to have a good effect on people. And over time, they will notice. Just taking the time to make some goodie bags for the teachers at the elementary school or the fire department could one day lead to someone coming to faith in Jesus. Even if we don’t see that result now, we could play a part in it.

It has been said many times that Christianity is always one generation away from extinction. Of course, God will never let that happen. But we all can play a part in keeping the church alive, thriving, and reproducing, even if it’s just a small part. We can’t count out our contribution. We are all part of the bigger picture. Something we’re doing now could touch the future in a BIG way even if we don’t live to see the results. Someone YOU lead to Jesus within the next year or two could end up being the next Rick Warren. We all have a part to play if we’re willing to do it. But it all starts with walking with God for the long haul. So we do more than just show up. We run this race, we fight this war, we walk with God (as He strengthens us), we give it everything we’ve got, and we finish the race. It takes endurance to go the distance!

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up” (Heb.12:1-3 NLT).

So what’s YOUR story? Your story is unique. No one else has the same story YOU do. And your story could make a huge difference in someone’s life. Now you’re not perfect. You’ve made mistakes in your life. And so have I. We all have. But there’s nothing more powerful than a personal story. Jesus, when He was on earth taught through stories and illustrations. And that’s how I like to teach. I like to give lots of illustrations and tell stories. It helps us to understand the Bible better. It helps us to remember what we’re learning. Stories are powerful. And your story could help change someone’s life.

But your story can also challenge YOU to keep walking with God. It can help you to discover something you didn’t realize about yourself. It can motivate you, as God speaks to you, to be on mission and walk with Him. So check out the questions below for Day 5. Prepare your story. Practice it. Share it with someone. Preparing and sharing our stories is a great time to evaluate ourselves. It’s not about feeling guilty. The point is to check in with God, ourselves, and each other. It’s important to know where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going. And as we all share our stories with each other, we get to know each other better.

Our stories are like windows into our souls. Yesterday we had a BBQ for our neighbors. We’ve met SOME over the past few months, but we didn’t know most of them until yesterday. And we had no agenda with the party. The point was simply to get a chance to meet them and get to know them a little bit. Just a having few hours yesterday listening to them, chatting back and forth, and having a meal together was pretty awesome. We started at noon and the last people didn’t leave until after 6! It was a great first step into getting to know our neighbors, hearing parts of their stories, and where they are in their lives. We all have a story. And every story is unique. So what’s YOUR story?

Day 5 (These questions are all geared to helping you think through, pray through, and prepare YOUR story to share with someone. Share it with other believers. Practice it often! And be ready to share it with someone who doesn’t yet believe. But pray for that opportunity. Make sure it’s someone who wants to and is ready to hear it.)

Questions/Actions to consider…

  1. Has there ever been a time in your life when you decided to walk with God? Have you turned from yourself, put your faith in Jesus, and decided to follow Him? When was that? After doing that have you ever been baptized as a believer in Jesus? When and where?
  2. What was your life like before putting your faith in Jesus? What was it that caused you to put your faith in Him? Was there someone in your life that told you about Him? Was it a friend or a parent? How has your life changed since putting your faith in Jesus? What do you think is the next step? What do you think God is saying to you as you walk with Him?
  3. Is there someone in your life who is coaching you and helping you to grow in the faith? Do you have someone you can go to and talk with when something is wrong or right in your life? Do you have anyone to share your spiritual struggles and victories with?
  4. If you have been a believer for a while, how has God changed you over the years? Does He continue to push you to your limits and challenge you? Does He still test your faith? What do you think God is saying to you now about where He wants you to be in the next 5-10 years?
  5. Other than trying to be a good person and going to church have you ever made a new disciple? Have you ever told someone about Jesus and helped them through the process of putting their faith in Him and getting baptized? Is there someone you are coaching right now as a believer? Is this something you desire to do but are not sure how to do?

 

 

Walking With God

Day 1

I just saw a great clip from the movie “Any Given Sunday.” In the clip, Al Pacino tries to rally his troops for a game. He described football as a game of inches that we have to fight for. Even though I’ve never seen the movie, his speech blew me away. And it blew me away because it’s true. But it’s not just football that’s a game of inches. Life is a game of inches. And that’s the point he was trying to make. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had to fight for every inch too. There are very few times in my life where things were just handed to me. Even when it seems something in life is free, we find out that it’s not free. There always seems to be a struggle. There’s always a string attached somewhere. And that string feels like an unbreakable chain. And that’s part of life. It’s never easy. But we fight for those inches.

The problem, however, is that most people are fighting for the wrong inches. They’re fighting for things that God didn’t tell them to fight for. And that’s when we run into road blocks. When God give us gifts (and we’ve all got them), He intends for us to use those gifts to benefit someone else. Yet our natural human desire is to use those gifts for ourselves and for our own gain. So it’s not a matter of not being able to use our gifts or being able to do what we love. Usually it’s a matter of who we’re doing it for.

And that’s what I hope we learn this week. We’re looking at the story of Cain and Abel. It’s a very famous story. Cain was gifted. And he was following his passion in life. But he got off base and started to do things his own way. He no longer wanted to follow God. And that has been man’s problem all along. God blesses us with great gifts and we end up using them for our own benefit. We end up doing our own thing and going our own way apart from God. And we already learned the term for that. It’s called sin.

So what do we do? How do we get back on the right track? That’s the beauty of the church. God has given us, not just direction and purpose in life, but He’s also given us a group of people to figure this journey of life out together. We’re not alone. We have God of course. But we also have His people (the church) to guide us along this journey called life. And that’s why I love football references so much. In football, you play as a team. And you learn over the course of the season how to work together. You learn the plays. You practice them. You work hard together. You sweat together. And by the end, no matter if you win or lose, you have this incredible experience with people that become your friends for life. And you always remember the experience you had together whether it was one season or many seasons.

For me, in my younger days, it was marching band. I never played on the football team. I got to coach flag football later in life but I never got to play tackle in my younger days. But the experiences we had (in marching band) taught me lessons that I still use to this day. And in the church, it’s 10,000 times better! We have the greatest Coach of all time (Jesus)! And we need to be on board with His vision and strategy. We need to play our guts out, work together, and fight for those inches. And the best part is that we already know the outcome. We already know we’re going to win the game! We know Jesus offers the crushing blow to that serpent in the end. We know we’re on the winning team. But in the meantime, we still have a job to do. We have gifts God has given us. And He wants us to use them, work together, and make disciples. He wants to recruit as many people as possible for team Jesus!

Coach Jesus has no salary cap. He’s doesn’t have to cut us down to a 53 man roster. But He does expect us to play. In the church, everybody plays. Nobody sits on the bench. We have the comfort of knowing He’s already saved us. We’re already forgiven. But we still need to play the game. And it’s hard. And sometimes it looks like we’re losing. But that’s why the church is such a beautiful thing. We never walk alone. We learn to walk with Jesus together. But it does mean we have to make Him number 1. Our culture teaches us to look out for ourselves. But the Bible makes it clear that God is number 1. We follow Him and His will.

During the school year, in my regular bus run, ducks cross the road in front of me almost every day on Ring Factory Road. And it’s so cute! Sometimes I worry that some driver, in his impatience, is going to run over them one day. But they are so cute! Those little ducks follow their mom all around, wherever she goes. They wouldn’t even think of wandering off. I don’t think that crosses their minds. But that’s what man does. We wander off. Despite the fact that God tells us He wants us to follow Him, we go off and do our own thing. We invent our own house rules and version of the game that’s convenient for us. And that’s what’s going to happen in our story today. Cain had a gift and passion for working the ground. And he was good at it. But he didn’t want to do it God’s way. He wanted to do it his own way.

So over the next 2 weeks we’re going to look at what it means to Walk with God. And our text is Genesis chapter 4. Next week, Lord willing, we’ll cover chapter 5. But today we want to cover what it looks like to follow God in all of life, to be on His team, and use our gifts and passions for Him (and His church) rather than ourselves.

Day 2 (Don’t try to read this whole post in one sitting. Try to space it out over a few days)

1. Walking with God in our spiritual life sets the tone for all of life.

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Gen.4:1-7 ESV).

So now Adam and Eve are starting to have kids. And we get a short description of what these guys do. Abel cares for sheep and Cain is more of a farmer. He’s working the ground. So what happens here is that each one of these guys brings an offering to God. Unfortunately, we don’t know why God accepts Abel’s offering and not Cain’s. But what we do understand is that God is looking for more than rules and rituals. They both brought an offering to God. They both did something religious. But one was accepted and the other wasn’t.

Again, it doesn’t say why, but it’s easy to figure out that it’s not about what was physically brought before God. It’s not that Abel offered a blood sacrifice and Cain didn’t. Each one was in a different line of work. Each one brought something from what they did. But all through the Bible, God makes it clear that religion doesn’t impress Him. True worship of God goes deeper than rules and rituals. In fact, I’m willing to bet the farm that Cain and Abel could’ve brought the exact same offering and God still wouldn’t have accept Cain’s offering. Because it’s not about the ritual. That wasn’t the issue. The heart was the issue!

And how do we know that? We get that from his reaction! It says that he was angry. He was mad at God for not accepting his sacrifice! But our worship of God can’t be whatever WE think it should be. It has to be in line with what God wants. That’s what we were created for. We were created to give glory to God. “Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory” (Isaiah 43:7 NLT). But Cain didn’t care. He wanted to do his own thing. He thought his offering should’ve been good enough. He didn’t care about what God wanted.

It could be that he didn’t know what God wanted. He could’ve made an honest mistake. We’ve all been there! But if that was the case, he would’ve begged God for forgiveness and he would’ve done everything he could’ve done to make it right. But he didn’t do that. In fact, God even tries to tell him that. God explains what’s going on. He says that sin is basically waiting to get him. God is trying to help steer him in the right direction. But Cain didn’t see it that way. He was angry at God. And he’s like, Why don’t you just accept this? This is what I brought. I don’t really care what you want God. I just want to get this over with!

And that’s the heart of what sin is all about. Whenever we do our own thing, apart from what God wants, it’s sin. And it all begins with our worship. Walking with God in our spiritual life sets the tone for all of life. So if we’re not willing to walk with God in our worship, it’s going to trickle down into every other aspect of our lives. “The sacrifice of an evil person is detestable, especially when it is offered with wrong motives” (Proverbs 21:27 NLT). Based on God’s rejection of Cain’s offering and Cain’s anger, we can safely assume that he did not have a godly motive with his offering, his worship, or his spiritual life.

What God really wanted, more than a religious act, was a healthy relationship with Cain. He wanted Cain to walk with Him. So this offering was probably more along the lines of something Cain felt he HAD to do rather than something he WANTED to do. Have you ever just gone through the motions of something and your heart wasn’t in it? I can remember, while I was growing up in school, which teachers really loved what they did. They went above and beyond the call of duty even with things they didn’t get paid for. And no one made them do it. No one asked them to do it. They just did it because they loved what they did.

I can also remember the teachers who were just there for the paycheck. They were usually grumpy, mean, and seemed to take delight in our punishment. They didn’t really take the time to get to know the kids. But what kind of teacher do you think makes a difference in a kid’s life? It’s the one that goes out of his or her way to make sure the students are successful. They make it fun. So needless to say, Cain’s heart was not into walking with God in worship. Abel, on the other hand, gave his best to God in worship. “It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith” (Heb.11:4 NLT). So Abel was walking with God. He was living by faith and gave his offering in faith. Cain just showed up with his gift and went through the motions of the religious thing.

So how does this apply to us? In the church, we know that Jesus died for our sins. We know He did away with the Law. So we know we don’t have to make all those animal sacrifices that they did in the Old Testament. We don’t have to follow all the Jewish Laws and rituals. Thank God! I wouldn’t have survived back then, and I probably wouldn’t be a pastor now if I had to constantly slaughter animals! I’d pass out from all the blood and guts! It’s disgusting. So I’m thankful that God doesn’t require all of that.

Nevertheless, it’s easy to fall into the religious trap of going through the motions. It’s easy to think that once we go to “church” on Sunday morning, we’ve fulfilled our weekly obligation. Check me off I’m done for the week! It’s easy to think, I’ve gained more knowledge ABOUT God so I’m good for the week. I’ve done something spiritual. But the person that does that misses the point. He misses the fact that we’re supposed to actually APPLY what we learn.

On the other hand, sometimes the things we do in worship are things that we don’t naturally like. Some things we might like and some things we might not. For example, some people hate to sing. But we are told to sing Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual songs (Col.3:16; Eph.5:19). God wants us to meet on a regular basis, read His Word, and teach His Word. Our walk with God begins with worship. That doesn’t mean we all have to do it the same. But we do need to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).

We can’t just invent our own way of worshipping God. That’s how some people got to where they are now. They say they don’t need the church or Jesus. They say as long as they’re a good person and don’t kill anybody, they’re pretty sure they’re going to heaven. They say all religions are basically the same. They say we all worship the same god. But that’s not true. Even in this passage, God pleads with Cain to get him to do the right thing. Unfortunately, all roads do not lead to heaven. All religions are NOT the same. All churches are not the same.

Some churches have invented their own version of the gospel and of who Jesus is. We have to be very careful that we know God’s Word and that we don’t bend it and twist it to fit whatever we want it to say (2 Tim.3:1-5; 1 Tim.4:1-5). “You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings. Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand- you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings. Then I said, ‘Look, I have come. As is written about me in the Scriptures: I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart'” (Psalm 40:6-8 NLT). God has never cared about our religious rituals. He cares about us walking WITH Him. He wants us to take joy in doing His will. Walking with God in our spiritual life sets the tone for all of life.

Day 3 (Remember to take all 5 days! Don’t read it all in one day.)

2. Walking with God in our professional life says a lot about who we are.

Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Then the LORD said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden (Gen.4:8-16 ESV).

So if walking with God in our spiritual life sets the tone for all of life, what’s next? It would be work (our professional life). This passage is such a shame. And it’s a shame because it wasn’t necessary. Abel didn’t do anything wrong. He was walking with God. On the other hand, Cain didn’t care what God wanted. Cain wanted to do his own thing. And that’s his choice! Anyone can make that choice. But where it went very wrong was that he got angry with his brother. He was jealous of his brother. So he killed him.

“We must not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because Cain had been doing what was evil, and his brother had been doing what was righteous” (1 John 3:12 NLT). I’m willing to go out on a limb, based on what the Bible says about righteous Abel (Matt.23:35), that he was willing to help Cain get back on the right track. The only thing Abel was guilty of was being a good guy. And he died for it. The same thing happened to Jesus. He never did anything wrong. He healed people. He partied with people. He reached out to the poor and outcast people. He did nothing but good.

And what thanks did He get for it? He was killed. It’s a common pattern in the Bible. Joseph’s brothers, much later in the book of Genesis, were jealous. And what did they do? They threw him in a well and sold him as a slave. Jacob and Esau didn’t get along either. Sibling rivalry runs deep in the Bible. And it runs deep in our day too. It’s such a shame though because it’s not necessary. Brothers and sisters are on the same team! They should be happy for each other’s successes and jumping in to help when their siblings are struggling.

Unfortunately, siblings are always trying to outdo each other and fighting for the approval they think they deserve. And my kids do it too. We’ve repeatedly told them it’s not necessary. We love all our kids the same. Each one is special and unique just the way they are. So they don’t need to try to win our approval. They already have it. What we want as parents is for our kids to get along and work together. We want them to be friends for life.

Anger at God isn’t necessary either. The natural human reaction, because of our sinful nature, is to blame God and get angry with Him. But all God wanted was for Cain to make the right choice to follow Him. God was trying to help him, not hurt him. Unfortunately, Cain took it too far. He murdered his brother. So he had to be punished. We can’t just go around killing people. There must be repercussions for everyone’s safety. So how does God judge Cain? He takes away the one thing that he loves. Remember, Cain was a farmer. He worked the ground.

That’s what he was born to do. That was his work. That was his professional life. That was his passion. But because sin was spiraling out of control in his life, and because he murdered his brother, the one thing he actually enjoyed was taken away from him. Now he has to be a wanderer. That’s sad. So he ends up in the land of Nod (which means wanderer). And all we know is that it’s east of Eden. No one really knows where it is.

And of course, Cain doesn’t like his punishment. Have you ever liked or enjoyed a punishment? I never have. That’s kind of the whole point of a punishment. It’s to deter you from doing it again. If you’re rewarded, there’s no reason to stop bad behavior. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a parent, it’s to make the punishment hurt! Now that doesn’t mean that it has to be a physical punishment. But it does have to hurt in some way. Otherwise, it’s not effective.

For us, what has worked over the years is to take away things they like to do (like electronics, phones, and video games). The other reason for punishment, however, is to teach us to get back on the right path. We don’t punish our kids just to make their lives miserable. Although sometimes it does benefit me. I do confess that. Whenever someone gets punished and has to do the dinner dishes, I get excited because I HATE doing dishes. I MISS our dishwasher and I can’t wait until we get a new one! But the point of punishment is to put us back on the right path. But it does need to hurt. If it doesn’t hurt it’s not effective.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work with Cain. Cain was just sorry he got caught. He did the same thing as his parents did. He tried to hide from God. He tried to talk his way out of it. He said, I don’t know where my brother is. What am I, my brother’s keeper? The correct answer to that question should be YES! We should our brother’s keeper. We should support them! But he lies to God. He tries to cover up his sin. And the result is that he now can’t do the one thing he was designed to do: work the ground. We already know his spiritual life is ruined. And now his professional life is ruined as well. He no longer gets to do what he loves to do!

So this is a pretty grim tale. How can we apply this? We treat is as a lesson in what NOT to do. What happened is that we started with the spiritual life. We started with worship of God. And if we get that wrong, we’re probably not walking with God in our professional life either. Most people seem to think that each segment of their life is separate. You go to church on Sunday and do the Christian thing and then you go to work and do the work thing and everything stays separate.

On the other hand, if we start with our spiritual life and worship, we can’t help but have it spill over into the rest of our lives. If I’m right with God and I’m walking with Him in worship, I’m going to want to walk with Him at work too. I’m going to want to bring glory to Him in ALL areas of my life. For me, it doesn’t phase me to be a pastor, a church planter, and a bus driver. For me, they’re all one in the same. There is no difference between Pastor Keith and Bus Driver Keith. I have the same mission wherever I am. I could be in the coffee shop or I could be in the bus. But no matter where I am, my mission is to build relationships with people.

My mission is to help connect people with God and with each other. I want all aspects of my life to run together. So if I’m coaching flag football as a parent in my personal life, I still have the same mission. I’m looking for an opportunity that God provides for me to hang out with someone new. I’m looking for a way to be Good News to someone. So it doesn’t matter what we do for a living. We can be on mission wherever we are. We can build relationships with people. We can listen to their problems and struggles. We can help them out when they have a need.

That’s the job of every Christian. We have the honor and privilege of leaving the 99 sheep and going out into the rest of our lives to find that one lost sheep that God is calling us to reach. Walking with God in our professional life says a lot about who we are. So there’s no need to separate the spiritual and the professional. If we’re walking with God on Sunday, let it spill over into the work week. And as we walk with God, He’ll provide opportunities for us to connect with people that need Him. We just have to be open to it. We need to realize that with the unique way He has designed each one of us, we have the ability to reach people right where we are. So there’s no need to separate the spiritual and the professional.

Day 4 (Stretch out this 5 day devotional all week and try to apply each point each day)

3. Walking with God in our personal life sets the example for others to follow.

Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad fathered Mehujael, and Mehujael fathered Methushael, and Methushael fathered Lamech. And Lamech took two wives. The name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. Zillah also bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron. The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah. Lamech said to his wives: “Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.” And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD (Gen.4:17-26 ESV).

So what’s happening here is the result of Cain’s decision. He chose NOT to walk with God. And that is his choice. But now we see the results. He gets married and has kids. And his kids have kids. And they are very talented. We see the start of some important trades and skills here. Some of his descendants learn how to take advantage of the nomadic life and raise livestock. Some of them are really into music. Some of them learn the trade of working with bronze and iron. We take those kinds of things for granted in our day and age, but someone had to originally invent this stuff. Someone had to learn how to do it and to teach others how to do it.

Unfortunately, they didn’t find a way to glorify God with their gifts. They kept on the path that was set by their father Cain. Lamech ends up boasting about his sin. He doesn’t even try to hide it like Cain did. He’s proud of it. He openly rebels against God and he doesn’t care. He kills someone just for taking a swing at him. And that leads to our final point. Walking with God in our personal life sets the example for others to follow. Cain’s descendants followed his example. They continued to walk away from God and do their own thing. Murder seemed to be a part of their DNA. But the opposite is true as well.

If we set a good example for our kids, they will follow it. They will do what we do. “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6 NIV). Our kids will do what we do. They will follow our example. There are exceptions to that rule, but in general they will follow us. It’s actually funny sometimes to hear my kids repeat some of the stuff Olivia and I say. Daddy. Drive with two hands on the wheel please. Mommy, be like daddy and let us watch TV and play video games. I like being FUN daddy! But sometimes it exposes our faults. Sometimes they pick up on our negativity. Even though we try to hide some things from them, they pick up on it. Kids are pretty sharp. But in the end, they will do what we do. They will follow our lead.

Cain’s family followed him in his rebellion and dysfunctional walk. Adam’s family followed him in his repentance. But it doesn’t end with bad news. This story does end with Good News. Even in the midst of such a negative story, Adam and Even have another son. And they name him Seth, which is related to the word for “to place/to set.” It’s not the most pleasant thought, but he was taking the place of Abel. Yet with this new son, God was keeping their hope alive. He promised them an offspring that would defeat the serpent (to overcome their sin problem; Gen.3:15). They might’ve thought Abel was that offspring, but now their hope lives on through Seth. And that is ultimately the line that Jesus was born into thousands of years later. Even when it seems all hope is lost, God always provides a way! We can trust Him!

And it doesn’t stop there. It says that “At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.” They were worshipping God. Adam, Eve, Seth, and the rest of that family line decided to repent of their sin. They chose to worship God in all of life (spiritual, professional, and personal). And when we walk with God in all of life (and when our actions back that up) people take notice. People are watching what we do. We don’t have to pretend we’re perfect. We just need to know that when we mess up, God can and will forgive. We just get back up and keep walking with Him. Only Jesus is perfect. And our hope is in Him, not ourselves. So when our walk with God lines up with what we say we believe, people take notice. And that’s usually when they start asking us about what we believe.

So how does this apply to us? We can’t isolate any part of our walk with God. Walking with God in our Missional Life is walking with God in ALL of life. Once we’re on God’s team it spills over into all aspects of life. And that’s what MISSIONAL is all about. We’re just learning to walk with God in all of life. Being missional is simply living on mission wherever we are and with whatever hat we’re wearing at that time. Missional living is walking with God and being on mission in all of life (personal, spiritual, professional, and social). We do it individually and as the church. We’re simply walking with God and trying to connect with God and with people no matter if we’re at work, at home, in the community, or at a church function. Walking with God is just a part of who we are. And we simply include other people in what we’re already doing. We don’t really need to add anything to our schedules.

And that’s the inches we need to fight for. Most people are fighting for the wrong inches. They’re fighting for that promotion. They’re killing themselves for the wrong reasons. Now there’s nothing wrong with having a great job or getting a promotion. We just need to remember WHO we’re working for and why we’re doing it. Maybe you didn’t get that promotion because God wants you to reach someone in the department you’re in now. Maybe that person doesn’t even work for the company yet. But a year down the road you’ll meet that one lost sheep. And you’ll realize that’s why God had you there the whole time.

And that’s why I drive a school bus.  For whatever reason, that’s one way God helps me to reach people. So it doesn’t matter where my paycheck comes from. What matters to me is following Jesus in all of life. For you it might be a little different. But God has you where He has you for a reason. But the point is that we don’t pencil God in or check off from a list when we’re done with God for the week. Walking with Him includes everything we do. It’s a part of our DNA as Christians.

Day 5 (Discuss these questions with your Missional Community)

Questions/Actions to consider…

  1. What does your spiritual life look like? How do you worship God? Do you find it easy to just go through the motions, attend a service, and be done with God for the week? Or is your spiritual life and worship something that goes beyond Sunday?
  2. Have you ever thought of your workplace as a way to walk with God? Have you ever considered your workplace a mission field? Or do you think that’s just the pastor’s job? Do you act the same way in the workplace that you do on a Sunday morning Gathering with other believers or are you a different person?
  3. If you are a parent, have you considered your way of life (at home, work, and spiritual life) as something your kids will carry on? Or do you expect them to do the right thing even though they see you do something different? Do you punish your kids for doing things they see you do? Is there a double standard in your home?
  4. What does it mean to follow Jesus in all of life? Should there be a separation of who you are at home, work, and worship?

Life Outside the Garden

Day 1

Side effects from medicines scare me to death. Every time I hear a commercial about a prescription, I’m glad I don’t need whatever they’re selling. The list of side effects always sounds so bad. Some of them even include death as a possible side effect. So why in the world would anybody take it? It’s ridiculous. If the side effects are just as bad (or worse) than the condition that’s supposed to be cured, then I say, No thank you. If it’s something minor like drowsiness or loss of appetite, that’s fine. But if you have to take another medication to handle the side effects of the first, they need to do a better job and invent something better! It’s ridiculous!

Watching the news can be ridiculous as well. Anytime I watch the news it seems like there’s never any good news. It’s always so negative. There’s always someone getting shot, someone dying, a bomb exploding, a politician is being investigated or going to jail, and either Russia or North Korea did something that’s pushing us closer to World War 3. It’s depressing. And it’s scary. But would it kill the news networks to say anything positive? It feels like they only know how to report on the disease and the side effects of the medicine we’re taking for the disease. They never bother to mention the cure.

Christians and churches are guilty of this too. They focus so much on sin and judgment that they forget the Bible actually points to the Good News. That’s what the word gospel means (Good News). In fact, most of the negativity in the Bible is the result of man’s rebellion against God. Yet instead of wiping us out, God keeps paving the way of salvation. So if you’re reading it correctly (and in context), the Bible is filled with Good News! But we do have to deal with some side effects. Because of what we looked at last week (which is known as The Fall), there are side effects to sin. There are consequences.

However, God also announces the Good News. He’s saying, I know you can’t fix it yourselves. You might try really hard, but you’re efforts just aren’t enough. In fact, Isaiah points out that very thing. He talks about God’s mighty deeds and miracles on our behalf, yet we keep slapping Him in the face as we rebel against Him. And then he adds, “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). That word for filthy rags, in Hebrew, is literally a menstruous rag.

Isn’t that a pretty picture? He’s making the point that we can’t fix our sin problem on our own. Even our righteous deeds (as believers) are like a menstruous rag that gets tossed in the trash. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom.3:23 NIV). Romans 6:23 sounds even worse! “For the wages of sin is death,” but it doesn’t stop there. It doesn’t end with the Bad News. It ends with the Good News. It says, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom.6:23 NIV). That’s Good News! But you might say that Jesus doesn’t appear in the Bible until the New Testament. And if you said that you would be wrong. Jesus is all over the Old Testament if you’re looking.

That’s why I love teaching the Old Testament so much. It points directly to Jesus! The whole Bible points directly to Jesus. Even the second half of Genesis Chapter 3, which we’re looking at today, points directly to Jesus. But it’s almost like looking at a Where’s Waldo picture. Remember Waldo? Most of the time he’s in the most obvious of places right in front of your nose but you can’t see him. He blends into the scenery. And Jesus is right in front of our noses today too. So it’s not all Bad News. There’s also very Good News. But we do have to take the good with the bad. And if we balance out the bad with the good, there’s one thing that carries us through. And that is hope.

There is hope. And there’s plenty of satisfaction to be found in life if we choose to live in light of the Good News instead of always falling prey to the side effects and bad news. Jesus said, “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10 NLT). And that rich and satisfying life doesn’t have to wait until heaven. We don’t have to grin and bear it and wait to die. We can experience a rich and satisfying life now. It’s just not going to look like what you think it will look like. We need to learn how to get on board with God’s plan and not our own.

If we follow our own plan, we’re just doing what man has done from the beginning, rebelling against God. But if we take the time to learn what God’s plan is, then we can find that rich and satisfying life. We can find our purpose. But again, it doesn’t look like what you think it does. It doesn’t mean a life of comfort and monetary wealth. And what God is telling us in this passage today is that He knows we can’t fix the problem. He knows we’re broken. He knows our good works are like filthy rags. So He says, I will step in and fix what’s broken. I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds like Good News!

Day 2

1. Life outside the garden reveals the consequences of a sin cursed world while announcing the Savior who would conquer the curse. 

The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen.3:14-19 ESV).

So here we have the consequences of sin being handed out to the serpent, the woman, and the man. God is describing what life will be like from now on (outside the garden) because of sin. And because the serpent (Satan) is the one who instigated this whole thing, he’s the one who gets punished first. And for him, it’s all Bad News. Let me ask you a question. Has anyone ever approached you with that face? You can’t tell what’s going on but they ask, What do you want to hear first? The Good News or the Bad News?

And you get this horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach that says, I think the world is about to end! I don’t know about you, but I’m programmed to think worst case scenario. And it’s a horrible feeling because the first thing that comes to my mind is that someone died in a horrible car accident, someone has cancer, my house burned down, or something similar. And then I start to walk through all the consequences of that bad news. But this news here is not like that. For the serpent, it’s all bad news. But it’s not all bad for us.

So what does God say to the serpent? He curses him. He doesn’t curse Adam and Eve. He curses the serpent. He basically says, Slither on the ground and eat dust all your life! That doesn’t sound like fun. Some people think that somehow the serpent had legs and feet that were taken away. That might be the case. We don’t know. It doesn’t say. But it does say that we’re not going to get along. The offspring of the snake and the offspring of the woman are not gonna be BFF’s! And we can’t forget that this was Satan taking the form of a serpent (Rev.12:9; 20:2). So this is a bigger deal than just animosity between people and snakes.

But then there’s Good News. God says, “he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” He says that a male offspring (of the woman) will be wounded (the snake will bruise his heel), BUT he (the offspring of the woman) will bruise your head (the head of the serpent). Some translations say strike (NLT; HCSB) and some say crush (NIV). The point, however, seems to be that the serpent will suffer a crushing blow to the head. He’s saying the serpent will be defeated one day (John 12:31; Col.2:15; Rom.16:20). That’s Good News!

I’m going to fill you in on a little secret. This is the first announcement in the Bible of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Of course, if this verse is all we had, we’d never know that. But the rest of the Bible points back to this promise of God. That is very Good News! God has a plan. And His plan does not include us being punished forever or abandoned. He was looking out for us from the very beginning. In fact, the Bible says that Jesus was slain before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20; Rev.13:8).

The Fall of Man did not take God by surprise. He knew what would happen. So He was not scrambling to fix the issue. He already had a plan in place ahead of time. Life outside the garden reveals the consequences of a sin cursed world while announcing the Savior who would conquer the curse. God never intended to leave us alone or outside the garden forever. His intention (from the beginning) was to repair what was broken and to restore what was lost. And the rest of the Bible points to the Savior (Jesus) who will one day conquer sin and death as He dies for our sins, rises from the dead, and delivers the crushing blow to the head of that serpent.

But until all of that is fully fulfilled, we still have to live with the consequences (the good and the bad) of life outside the garden. So after God finishes cursing the serpent (and blessing us in the process), it’s time to hand out our punishment for sin. So He turns to Eve and says she’s going to have pain in childbirth. That’s part of God’s judgment on her and all women after her. But it’s not ALL bad. Because once it’s over, she still gets to celebrate a new life coming into the world. In reference to a woman suffering in labor, Jesus said, “When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world” (John 16:21 NLT).

However, I think what really happens is that the pain doesn’t disappear. It actually transfers to the man. I remember when Owen was born, my knee really hurt! When Ethan was born, I woke up a little delirious and almost passed out. And then once the last two came, I think we were both fine. We were used to the pain by then. Maybe we were numb by that point. But seriously, I think the man also suffers. Olivia doesn’t buy that one….

The second thing He says to Eve is the one that’s devastating. When it says that the woman’s desire will be for her husband and that he will rule over her, that’s not a command. That’s an explanation of the dysfunction that’s coming in marriages. Remember, Adam and Eve were meant to complement each other. They were meant to be equals that filled in the gaps of what the other was lacking. But now they’re going to be fighting for control and power over each other instead of working together.

And that’s been happening every day since for thousands of years. Even in our day, women are still fighting for equality. Men are still trying to be domineering pigs. We fight for power and control in our society, in our marriages, and in our relationships. And that’s a direct result of this judgment. God’s original intention and design was for us to work together, not fight for control and power over each other.

So how does God judge the man? He starts out by cursing the ground. He doesn’t curse the man but He does curse the ground which has a negative impact on the man. Now work won’t be such a joy for him. Now it’s going to be hard. It’s a pain in the you know what! There’s going to be weeds and thorns! And now he has to eat vegetables all the time. So there’s a reason no one wants to eat their veggies! It’s NOT a joy to eat carrots. I’m sorry but they’re just not tasty, unless you add Ranch and Blue Cheese (which were not part of God’s original design either).

But seriously, as a result of sin and God’s judgment, it’s harder to work and eat. There’s a lot of sweat involved. And God says it’ll be like that until the day you die. He says I created you from the dust of the earth and someday you will return to dust. Again, when they sinned they didn’t die right away, but the process did start. Their bodies started to break down. And WE have to die too. It’s all a part of the package deal. And those words are related, just like some of the other words we looked at. God created Man (Adam) out of the ground (adamah). So man will one day return to where he came from. But again, there’s Good News mixed in.

“Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Heb.9:27-28 NIV). We can’t forget the Good News. God already announced that He was sending a Savior to overcome our sin and death problem. That’s our hope for the future even though, temporarily, we still have to deal with life outside the garden. We still have to play by the rules. We do have to die someday.

“But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy. For you bless the godly, O LORD; you surround them with your shield of love” (Psalm 5:11-12 NLT). So how do we live this out? What’s the application? God wants us to spread the Good News. He wants to save everyone. He doesn’t want anyone to suffer the same fate as the serpent (1 Tim.2:3-6). So we are His newspaper companies and delivery people! We deliver the Good News!

So here’s 2 quick tips about living Life Outside the Garden:

BE Good News. When we actually take the time to go out and be a positive influence in people’s lives (people that don’t know Jesus yet), they take notice. This could be for people in your own family. It could be for co-workers that have a bad taste in their mouths when it comes to God. They might have a good reason for not liking the church! But if we take the time to listen to their story over a cup of coffee (or lunch or dinner), we might just BE the Good News they’ve been waiting to hear.

But we don’t have to pretend our lives are perfect. As I said last week, we have a much better solution to our sin problem than try harderBehavior management is like a pain reliever for the symptoms (I take Aleve for my headaches and Claritin for my allergies). But Jesus Christ cures the disease. None of us are perfect. We ALL sin. We’re ALL broken. So we point to Him. HE is the Good News we all need! So there’s no need to pretend we’re perfect. He’s perfect!

SHARE the Good News with those who ask. Not everyone is ready to hear what I’m telling you today. Not everyone is open to the Good News yet. But over time, as they see your life change, and as they see YOU being Good News, you will earn the right to have a gospel conversation with them about God. And the best time to do that, in my experience, is when they ask! If we try to shove Jesus and the Bible down their throats before they’re ready, we’re gonna push them away. But if you give it time, they might eventually come to YOU and ask questions because they see you’re the real deal. So share the Good News of Jesus! But only do it when they’re open. Do it when they ask (1 Peter 3:15). And share what YOU know. Don’t worry about having every answer. No one has all the answers. But there are people in your life that only YOU can reach. We can’t expect someone else to do it.

Day 3

2. Life outside the garden is a picture of sacrifice and grace along with good news and suffering.

The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever–” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen.3:20-24 ESV).

So now the woman has another name. She is woman (which complements and comes from the man) but she is now also known as the giver of life (Eve). She’s the first mom! She gives life! Olivia always tries to rattle my chain when she says she’s sure all the kids came from her. And that’s true. I saw each one come out. I was there. But she always winks when I say that it takes two. And she says that’s true. But what if the other guy was the mailman? What a horrible thing to say. But it’s undeniable that at least two look like me and the other two display some of my unique, undeniable, and charming characteristics! But I digress…

And there’s a lot of Good News here that’s easy to miss. God now clothes Adam and Eve. They tried clothing themselves with fig leaves, but that didn’t work out so well. Have you ever tried clothing yourselves with leaves? If not you can always go outside and grab a couple and try it. We have some leaves beside my house that look like they’re from the Amazon Jungle, but they won’t hold up over time no matter how large they are. They rip pretty easily.

Yet God, in His grace, makes clothes for them. But did you notice what He makes the clothes out of? He made them out of skins (animal skins). Something had to die. An innocent animal had to die for Adam and Eve to be clothed. Up till now no one was a meat eater. Even Adam and Eve were vegetarians. No one was out shooting Bambi yet. So God is giving us a beautiful picture of His grace. Unfortunately, blood had to be shed to cover their sin (Lev.17:11; Heb.9:22, 26). So there is both sacrifice and grace involved.

So what happens next? God kicks them out of the Garden of Eden. It says that He’s doing that so they can’t eat from the Tree of Life anymore. And that’s what starts the aging and death process for them. You see, if they would’ve stayed in the garden and kept eating from the Tree of Life, they would’ve lived forever. But they would’ve lived forever separated from God. They would’ve lived forever in their broken state.

You know what the worst part of hell is going to be? It’s not the lake of fire. It’s separation from God. Believe me, you don’t want to exist in a place where God and His grace are not present. Think about it. Even though Adam and Eve are undergoing judgment from God, He’s making a way for them to be restored. He already announced that a Savior’s coming to overcome their sin problem and crush the head of the serpent. So He’s kicking them out of the garden so he can protect them. He’s actually allowing them to die so one day they can be reborn and resurrected. We don’t ever want to be where God is not.

There’s 3 kinds of deaths that are pointed to in the Bible. And the easiest definition of death is separation. The first kind of death is spiritual death. That’s separation from God. Adam and Eve were separated from God spiritually when they sinned. Their relationship with God was broken and they were separated from Him. The second kind of death is physical death. That’s the one we’re most familiar with. That’s when our physical bodies are separated from our soul and spirit. But the one we really need to stay away from is eternal death. That’s when we’re permanently separated from God for all eternity (that’s hell). And if you read the Bible even half-heartedly, you can clearly see that God does everything He can (including giving His own life) to make sure that doesn’t happen to us. But He won’t force us to accept Him. He won’t force us to love Him. He gives us all a choice to accept Him or not.

And there’s only one way to bring us back into a right relationship with God. And that’s by faith in Jesus. We have to accept what He did. Our righteous acts are like filthy, menstruous rags. We can never be good enough to repair the damage caused by sin. But Jesus can. He is good enough. He never sinned. Plus, He made the ultimate sacrifice so we could be saved and restored to a healthy relationship with God. And that’s Good News!

We can’t save ourselves. Only God can save us. That’s why it infuriates me so much when I hear Christians and churches preaching the gospel of good works and behavior management. It’s big business. They sell a lot of Christian Self-Help books! They make people feel like crap. They make them feel guilty and dirty (which we all are). But they make it sound like if you can clean up your act (and pray a magical prayer), you’ll be saved. But it’s not true. You can clean up your act all you want. And maybe you’re already a good person in general. And that’s fine. But none of us are good enough. None of us can clean up our act enough to satisfy God.

Perfection is the only ticket to heaven! And the only One that can satisfy that requirement is Jesus! And He freely gives it to us through faith in Him. Over time He will clean up our act if we let Him work in our lives. And that’s great. But that comes AFTER salvation. Only Jesus can save us. So you don’t have to clean up your act before coming to Jesus. But you do have to decide for yourself. No one can make the decision for us. It has nothing to do with our parents’ faith, the faith of our nation, or if we were forcibly baptized as a baby. Babies have no choice. That’s just something the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church instituted when they hijacked Christianity around 1,700 years ago. We all have to make that decision ourselves.

Life outside the garden is a picture of sacrifice and grace along with good news and suffering.  The truth is that God didn’t kick them out of the garden to be mean. He didn’t block the path with an angel and a flaming sword to be cruel. He made sure we couldn’t get back in because He didn’t want us to live forever separated from Him. He wanted His children back. But salvation is neither free nor easy. It costs us our lives. So we don’t just take a sin management course, pray a prayer, and escape hell while becoming a religious snob and making other people feel like crap because they’re not good enough to be around us. The example we have is the example of Jesus. He left the comforts of heaven to be with us, to die for us, and to save us. He left the 99 sheep to go out and find the one lost sheep. That’s the example set by God. And that’s the way we want to reach people in our church (one at a time). God cares about individual people. He cares about YOU, not big numbers.

So life outside the garden is not all bad. It’s not all doom and gloom. There’s a lot of good because God is good and gracious. And we can be a blessing for other people. We don’t just want to escape hell and have God not be mad at us while overcoming our addictions and bad habits. We want to live our lives with purpose now, for Him, and have a healthy relationship with God. But we don’t need to scare people into heaven. We need to love people in relationship. We need to help connect them with God and with us. We need to make sure we’re preaching the right gospel (Good News).

So here’s 2 final tips about living Life Outside the Garden:

True satisfaction comes through sacrifice. When we focus on ourselves, life is empty. But when we make sacrifices to help someone else, that’s when we truly start to live. When we go out of our way to help someone in need, help someone pay their bills, or go out of our way to get to know someone that doesn’t know Jesus, we are inconveniencing ourselves. But it’s so worth it! If we’re not inconveniencing ourselves on a daily basis, we’re not living life right. If we’re not going without something to help someone else, it’s not sacrifice. If we only do what’s convenient, we only love ourselves. True satisfaction comes through sacrifice while we’re on God’s mission.

Suffering is a sign of growth and mission. Our culture teaches us to only do what’s easy, convenient, and what feels good at the time. Suffering and challenges, according to our culture, are signs that something is wrong. But the Bible teaches that through suffering we achieve growth. And mission always includes a struggle. Jesus struggled while He was on the earth. So if He suffered and faced obstacles, why wouldn’t we? If the Apostles suffered, why wouldn’t we? So if we run into obstacles on mission, it’s a sign we’re on the right path! If it’s too easy, we’re probably doing something wrong! “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4 NIV).

Day 4

There’s a legendary lesson that Olivia and I learned years ago. This is when Owen wasn’t even a year old yet. So this had to be at least 13 years ago or so. But at the time, I was working for a newspaper company. I was the district manager. And it was a nightmare. It turned out to be a 7 day a week job. It was so stressful. And I wasn’t really a manager. I was more of a babysitter. When the delivery people didn’t show up for work, guess who had to deliver the paper? And one time, when I was desperate, my loving wife agreed to take on a route and help me out.

But she called me one time crying her eyes out. She couldn’t find some of the addresses. It’s not easy finding some of those addresses of certain properties that are around back and up steep steps (while nothing is marked). But she was having trouble and needed help. And I was having trouble because someone else didn’t show up and I couldn’t find addresses either. And we were both crying. And I was like, the papers are late! I’m gonna get fired! But we finally sucked it up, we eventually found the addresses, and we got the papers delivered. So we learned an important lesson that day. We knew we were in trouble. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But the lesson we learned was that Crying does NOT get the newspaper delivered!     

Once we stop crying about everything life (and the Christian Life) throws at us and we just jump in and do it, we see the beauty of life outside the garden. Even though it’s hard and we struggle to live on mission, we see the beauty as other people come to the faith. It’s worth the struggle (it’s worth the side effects of the Fall) when we find that one lost sheep. And in the end, we realize that the struggle is temporary while the rewards are satisfying and eternal! On the other hand, when we’re handed everything for free, like our society seems to teach, we don’t learn anything. We learn through struggle.

We can’t really have patience until we have to wait for something. We can’t really be responsible with money until we’re put in a situation where we have to make a budget and pinch pennies. We can’t really say we’re mature in our faith until we have a chance to grow in our faith through struggle. So we need to go through those times where it seems like God isn’t around. That’s all part of life outside the garden. But as we learn to look outside of ourselves, as we grow in our faith, and as we learn to live our lives on mission, we learn what it means to sacrifice and to suffer while trying to reach a lost and dying world that doesn’t know Jesus. Then we truly understand grace. Then we truly understand satisfaction.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 5:3-7 NIV). That’s Good News!

Day 5

Questions/Actions to consider…

  1. Who in your life needs Good News? What does this person believe about God, salvation, sin, and death? Do they believe? Do they see a need for God in their life? How can you be a breath of fresh air in their life and BE Good News? Are you willing to pray for this person by name every day until they come to faith in Jesus? Why are YOU a better fit to reach this person than anyone else?
  2. Is God too weak to save us? Why does a good God allow evil and suffering? Is it that He can’t or won’t help? Read Acts 17:30-31 and see if it changes your perspective about these questions. And then read 2 Peter 3:8-13. What is the Good News in this passage? Does it make sense why God is waiting to step in and judge evil? God told us in advance that He has set a day aside to judge the world and put an end to evil. So what does that means for believers? What should we be doing with all this extra time while we wait?
  3. It’s quite natural to complain and get upset about negative things that happen; however, have you ever considered the bad things that could happen but don’t?
  4. What are some of your best accomplishments throughout your life? Did any of those come easy without any struggle?
  5. Have you ever wondered if you were on the wrong path because something was hard? Did you think that maybe because it wasn’t easy that it was not God’s will? How hard was the path that Jesus took? How hard did the Apostles have it once Jesus ascended into heaven? Should our path be any less troublesome?
  6. How does it make you feel that you are just as saved (because of your faith in Jesus) as the next guy? Has anyone ever made you feel worthless because you didn’t know enough about the Bible or that you still have a long way to go to maturity? Does it make you feel better that we can only be saved because of Jesus and not how put together we are, our good works, and/or our past mistakes?
  7. Have you ever made a decision to follow Jesus, to put your faith in Him, and to turn away from your own path to follow His? Have you ever been baptized after making a profession of faith? If so, how has your life looked since then? Has anything changed?

 

Independence Day

Day 1

I HATE snakes! In my sheltered life, I’ve never really had to worry about seeing a snake (until now). There was one time when we were on vacation in Virginia where we saw one all coiled up. He must’ve been sleeping though, because we were able to walk right by. He didn’t move at all. Having said that, I’ve already seen a handful of snakes on our new property in the past 6 months that we’ve been living here.

I’m starting to calm down a little though. I’m still terrified of snakes but not as bad as before we moved. A few weeks back, I almost drove over one with the tractor. I was going down beyond our barn to clear some more land. And as I was driving, I saw one slithering across the grass. It wasn’t super huge. It might’ve been about 3 or 4 feet long. Amazingly enough, I was able to stay calm. I backed up the tractor a little and watched it disappear into the woods. Then I did what anyone would’ve done. I turned around and got as far away from that place as I could! I found Olivia and admitted I was a tad scared. But I did eventually go back down (the same day) and continue clearing.

In addition, I am starting to learn about snakes little by little. I’ve done some basic research. There are mainly black snakes in our area. And I found out that they’re not really poisonous or harmful. They’re actually helpful to have around. They help keep the mice population down. The most surprising thing I learned, however, was that most bites and accidents that happen with snakes are the result of someone trying to kill the snake. So what I’ve learned, in general, is that if we just leave them alone, we’ll be fine. There’s no need to kill them. That’s hard for my brain to process, but I’m trying my best to listen to that advice. My first instinct is that the snake must die! I must kill the snake!

So what does that have to do with Genesis Chapter 3? That’s a great question. I’m glad you asked. Adam and Eve are about to encounter a snake. Needless to say, this was more than just a snake. It was Satan appearing in the form of a snake. So it’s like a million times worse than running into a black snake on your property. However, there’s all kinds of misconceptions about this story, about Satan, about sin, and about what to do about it. But we can’t cover it all in one shot. I’m breaking Genesis Chapter 3 into two messages. So today we’ll clear up some of the misconceptions about sin, and then next week we’ll learn about the solution. But the solution isn’t what you think. Just like with snakes, a little knowledge goes a LONG way.

So this week’s message is called Independence Day. And that’s appropriate since this is actually the July 4th weekend. Unfortunately, half the time when you ask people what Independence Day is all about, they don’t even know. Most people around here will say that it had to do with the Battle of Gettysburg, which happened around the same time as the original Independence Day, but not the same year (July 1-3, 1863). But that’s not it. Have you ever heard of the Declaration of Independence? That’s what Independence Day is all about. It’s about when we declared our independence from Great Britain (July 4th 1776). So the two events were almost ninety years apart.

But there’s also misconceptions about the Christian Independence Day as well. It was not our finest hour. And we can’t blame Adam and Eve. If I was there, I probably would’ve done the same thing. If you were there, you probably would’ve done the same thing. So today we’re talking about the original Independence Day. It’s the day we declared our independence from God. And that’s not a good thing. It’s not something to celebrate. It actually represents our need for Dependence Day, which we’ll talk about and celebrate at Easter (Lord willing)!

But Genesis Chapter 3 has a lot of answers. Most of the time when we ask those big questions that people ask (Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does it seem God is so distant when I need Him the most?), Genesis 3 is where we need to look to begin to figure out those answers. It’s where we see evil and temptation for the first time in the Bible. It’s where we get introduced to Satan and the serpent. It’s where we realize that both good and evil exist. They both go together somehow. We can’t have one without the other (like love and marriage). My wife knows this all too well! Sometimes she both loves me and hates me at the same time.

However, before we get to answer some of those questions, we have to first learn how we got into this beautiful mess. And we have to realize that we’re being tested. “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance” (Psalm 66:10-12 ESV). I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I’m going through a trial it seems like God is nowhere to be found. We cry out to Him and it feels like He’s not there. It seems like He doesn’t care. And when you’re going through a trial it’s so hard to pull yourself out of it and see the bigger picture.

But as we remain faithful, God pulls us through. He’s there every step of the way. But it’s a test. And we have to pass it. God will bring us through, but we can’t give up. We need to live by FAITH and not by FEAR. We can’t fall into sin when we think God’s not hearing us or if we think He’s not around. We cling on to Him by faith even when it seems like all hope is lost. Furthermore, it is my hope that after considering Genesis Chapter 3 we can all agree that sin is not the answer. Getting mad at God is not the answer. And atheism is not the answer. Faith is the answer! God is faithful. He WILL pull us through. And He will bring us to that place of abundance that the Psalmist talks about.

Day 2

1. When we declare our independence from God we are making a conscious choice. 

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate (Genesis 3:1-6 ESV).

So now the plot thickens! God had placed the man and woman (Adam and Eve) in this beautiful, perfect garden. He set them up for success. They had everything they needed and more. And, as we learned last week, they were naked and not ashamed. But now, as we begin chapter three, we’re introduced to the serpent. We’re not told anything about the serpent except that this he is crafty. And there’s a little play on words going on here to show just how crafty he is. The Hebrew words for naked and crafty sound similar.

So Adam and Eve were naked and felt no shame. But the serpent is not so innocent. He’s crafty. And in his craftiness, he’s going to push Adam and Eve into sin and they will eventually be ashamed of their nakedness. And in his first act of craftiness, he intentionally twists and misquotes what God said. So instead of repeating the rule correctly, he adds to it. He asks Eve if God said that they weren’t allowed to eat of ANY tree in the garden. Remember, there was only one tree they couldn’t eat from (The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil).

So Eve jumps in and corrects him. But then she adds to God’s Word too. We don’t know why. But she says that they can’t even touch the fruit. And then the serpent says, That’s not true! You won’t die. God just doesn’t want you to be like Him. Because if you eat from that tree you will be like God. You will know good and evil. So the serpent is telling a half-truth. But he’s also calling God a liar. He’s inferring that God’s not good because He’s holding back things that they could be enjoying. He’s keeping some things for Himself and not sharing.

The only problem though is that half-truths are still lies. By eating the fruit from that tree, they will have knowledge of good and evil. That is true. But he lies about the consequences. He says they won’t die. So he was calling God a liar, which is ironic because a few thousand years later, Jesus calls Satan the father of lies (John 8:44). Unfortunately, the damage had already been done. In fact, it worked so well the first time that he hasn’t changed his tactics in thousands of years. We still fall for it today. He places doubts in our minds about God’s goodness. He bends and twists Scripture. He gets us to be mad at God because we think He’s withholding something.

But that’s why Knowledge is Power. If we can know God’s Word, and if we TRUST God, we can outsmart the devil every time! We actually have the benefit of these examples from Scripture. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4 ESV; c.f. 1 Cor.10:11). So despite what some people think, the Bible is not boring. It’s not something God wrote to punish us. It’s not a waste of time. The point is that we have God’s Word in written form. We know what He wants. We know the difference between right and wrong. We know what our mission and purpose in life is.

But the problem is that people have been doubting God, His Word, and His goodness ever since. Even churches doubt God’s Word. Believe it or not, even many churches doubt God’s Word. They don’t advertise it, but they don’t believe God’s Word. They believe it contains God’s Word, but they also believe that it contains errors and that it has been corrupted over the years by man. But we believe that the Bible IS God’s Word. It is without error in the original languages. We believe that we can trust God and His Word.

The other problem with Satan’s lies is that He makes us believe that if we disobey God, we will somehow be like Him. But that’s not true either. That’s another misconception. Satan was originally an angel, created by God. But he rebelled against God. He wanted God’s job. But that was never going to happen! And we will NEVER be God either. We will never be gods. But as we grow closer to God, and as we mature spiritually, we can become more godly. We can become more and more like Him every day. As Christians, we want to be more like Jesus (Rom.8:29). That’s a good thing. But we won’t BE Jesus. And we’ll never be more like Jesus by disobeying God, cutting corners, or doing it our own way. We have to play by His rules.

If He is the Creator (and He is), He gets to make the rules. We can’t invent our own or twist them to our advantage. It’s like when you’re watching a football game. Sometimes you know the guy stepped out of bounds, but because it’s your team you start cussing out the refs on TV! He was in! Are you blind ref? But when it’s the other way around and you know the other receiver is in, you cuss out the refs again and say he was out. It’s instinctive. We fight for what benefits us rather than the truth. But we can’t bend and twist the rules for our own benefit.

It’s like when you learn to drive a car. You might be old enough, but you still have to get driver training first. Then you have to study and take the written test. Then you get your permit and you learn how to drive with a responsible adult. Then you take the driver’s test. And then if you pass, you get your license. There are proper rules to follow. And that makes sense to us for physical things. So why doesn’t it make sense for spiritual matters? Why do we get so offended when we learn we have to play by God’s rules? It’s because we want our independence! Let freedom ring!

The other thing to remember is that sin always promises more than it can deliver. It’s so easy to focus on the negative and to get mad at God. We talked about that last week. It’s easy to focus on what we can’t do or what we can’t have instead of realizing that we have so many FREEDOMS that God has blessed us with. He has given us so many GOOD gifts! But with sin and temptation, Satan gets us to think that there’s unending benefits to what we don’t have. He tries to get us to think sin won’t hurt anybody and that we’ll be like God. But he fails to mention that sin always leaves us wanting more. It doesn’t really satisfy.

Think about the man who cheats on his wife. It might offer a few minutes of pleasure, but in its wake it leaves years of pain. It leads to divorce and a broken family. It hurts his kids and his wife for years to come, not to mention if the other person was married and had kids. And all for what? A few moments of pleasure? It’s not worth it. Sin always promises more than it can deliver. We do have the choice to do pretty much anything we want, but not everything is beneficial (1 Cor.6:12). If all your best friends are jumping off a cliff should you do it too just because you can? You should probably think before you jump, because if you do you’ll be dead (unless you pack a parachute).

When we declare our independence from God we are making a conscious choice. We are the ones who choose to act. It’s not anyone’s fault but our own. Temptation makes it harder, but it’s still our choice. And that’s what happened with Eve. Satan lied and tried to get her to sin. But he didn’t have the power the actually cause her to sin. It was still her choice. Verse six says, “when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6 ESV).

So there’s two things we need to notice from this verse. First, temptation is not a sin. Satan is sinning, but we’re not. It’s only a sin when we ACT on the temptation. But it IS our choice. We don’t HAVE to sin. And God always gives us a way out (1 Cor.10:13). He’s there to help us. Even if we’re already addicted to something destructive, there are ways out of it if we’re willing to put in a little work. But most of the time it requires getting help. And that’s hard to do. We don’t like to admit that we need help. But God always provides a way out. He’s on our side. He’s the good guy. Satan is the one who tempts, not God (James 1:13-18).

Second, there is a process to sin. And Eve followed the same process we do. She looked and realized that there were benefits to the sin. She saw that it was good to eat. She saw that it was pleasing to the eyes. And she saw that she could get something she wanted (wisdom). Unfortunately, once she was at the point of considering the benefits, it was too late. She was already in too deep. And she made the choice to do it. So there is a process to sin (1 John 2:16). It’s kind of like digging our own graves (James 1:14-15). Once we start digging, eventually we get too far and we’re trapped. We get drawn in by our own sinful desires. And each time we sin it gets easier and easier. Then all of a sudden sin gives birth to death.

But Paul gives us the antidote (2 Tim.2:22). Instead of pursuing sin and our own desires, he says we can pursue righteousness. We can pursue what God wants. And that takes us in the opposite direction! And that’s why it makes sense when James says, “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 NLT). If we’re generally pursuing righteousness and following God, it will be a whole lot easier to resist temptation.

And in the church, we can help each other pursue righteousness. We were meant to connect with God and with people. That’s what discipleship is all about (good coaching and a strong support system). Unfortunately, with Adam and Eve all of that broke down. Adam didn’t try to stop her. It doesn’t say why. But for whatever reason, he didn’t. And then he ate too. But it was a choice. No one MADE them do it. When we declare our independence from God we are making a conscious choice. And churches get this backwards too. Instead of supporting each other, they judge people and kick them out of the church. It’s ridiculous.

Day 3

2. When we declare our independence from God we are accepting the consequences.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:7-13 ESV).

So now we’re not in Kansas anymore Toto. We’re not in the peaceful garden running around naked anymore with no shame. Not everything is roses and sunshine anymore. As a result of Adam and Eve’s sin, their lives start to spiral out of control. And now they know the difference between right and wrong. The devil was right about that one. The only problem is that their knowledge is experiential. They know the difference because they’ve actually sinned. God knows the difference between right and wrong, but He’s never sinned.

And what is a sin anyway? The easiest definition of sin is whenever we do something that is against what God wants. Adam and Eve knew the rule. There was only one rule. And they broke it. That was against what God wanted. And anytime we do something against what God wants, it’s called sin. And it creates a break in the relationship. Sin hurts our fellowship with God. “Listen! The LORD’s arm is not too weak to save you, nor is his ear too deaf to hear you call. It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore” (Isaiah 59:1-2 NLT).

So then what happened? They tried to hide from God. They tried to cover themselves by making clothes out of fig leaves. There was no Ralph Lauren. He was out of a job. Up till then people didn’t need clothes! And there was no Macy’s Day Parade. Macy’s wasn’t needed yet because everyone was naked. Everybody was in their birthday suits. But ever since that time, our natural tendency has been to cover and hide. And I’m not just talking about clothes. When we sin, we try to hide it. We think people won’t notice. We think God won’t notice. Kids do the same thing. When they break something or they do something they know is wrong, they try to hide it. It never works, but they try it anyway.

Fortunately, hiding from God is not an option. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable” (Heb.4:13 NLT; Ecc.12:13-14). That’s NOT a bad thing though! The fact that we can’t hide from God is a GOOD thing. Remember, we are His children. And He is a good good Father. That’s who He is. He’s not out to get us. He might have to punish us when we do wrong, just like any good parent, but it’s for our own good.

Think about a public pool. What do all public pools have for everyone’s safety? No one can swim at that pool unless a lifeguard is on duty. And yes, sometimes the people swimming don’t like the lifeguard. Sometimes they do things and get in trouble. But why is the lifeguard there? He’s there for everyone’s safety. He’s watching over everyone so they’re safe. So when God looks down on us (like a lifeguard), it’s for our own protection. He loves us and is watching out for us. And yes, when we do wrong, He corrects us. But He’s not out to get us or strike us down with a bolt of lightning. So the fact that we can’t hide from God is a very GOOD thing.

We think we can hide from Him, but we can’t. Every toddler I’ve ever known, when they play peek-a-boo, thinks that when they hide under a blanket or close their eyes, we can’t see them. It’s hysterical. Every baby believes they magically disappear. And we play along sometimes (just like God does in this Scripture), but we know. They can’t hide from us. And we can’t hide from God. And believe me, you wouldn’t want to. We can’t possibly hide from His love for us. But the point here is that in hiding from God, it indicates that there is a problem in the relationship. Sin hurts our relationship with God. It separates us from Him.

And that’s such a shame. In this passage, it says, “they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day…” (Gen.3:8 ESV).And when they heard Him coming, it says that they hid from Him. I don’t know about you, but I would give almost anything to have a sit down with God. They could freely talk to God and see Him LIVE (in person). We don’t have that luxury. We do have His Word, and we can pray to Him anytime (and we should), but they had an unlimited back stage pass to God. But because of sin, they hid from Him. That’s tragic.

And now they’re experiencing a flood of new emotions that they’ve never felt before. And they weren’t good emotions. They were feeling guilt, fear, embarrassment, and shame. Instead of enjoying fellowship with God, now they feared Him. They were afraid to see Him. They were ashamed. They felt too guilty to look Him in the face. And that’s our final point. When we declare our independence from God we are accepting the consequences. Whether we like it or not, there are consequences to sin. And we will talk more about that next week. God is going to hand out the consequences to the serpent, to the woman, and to the man.

But not all the consequences are bad. Stay with me for just a moment! I’m not crazy. I promise. Before we look at the negative consequences (next week), I want us to see just how good our God is and what an awesome and loving Father He is. And you won’t hear this in many churches. Even churches focus so much on the negative that they don’t see the positive. We have such a loving and gracious God, but we’re so wrapped up in ourselves, that we fail to see the “Collateral Beauty.” If you’ve never seen the movie, you need to check it out (Dir. David Frankel). It’s mind blowing. I’m sure you’ve heard of collateral damage, but have you heard of Collateral Beauty?

Collateral Damage is the unintended damage caused by something. It’s like if we go to war with a country and bomb certain targets. We might hit the targets, but there also might be some collateral damage (unintended damage). We might accidentally take out a shopping mall and kill innocent civilians. That would be unintentional. That’s collateral damage. Collateral Beauty is the opposite. It would be the beauty that grows out of the tragedy.

Let’s say your family is killed in a tragic accident but somehow you survive. And it’s torture because you miss your family. But 5 years later you meet someone, fall in love, and have kids. And one of those kids becomes a doctor and discovers the cure for cancer. That would be collateral beauty. That’s an amazing thing that could come out of a tragedy but wouldn’t have happened without the tragedy. It’s like horrible and wonderful all at the same time.

Let’s say you were an alcoholic and it destroyed you and your family. But years later, after you’ve recovered, you end up helping other people overcome their addiction to alcohol. So even though horrible things happened, good eventually came out of it. The real truth is that even in our sinful, rebellious state, God still loves us and can create beauty out of tragedy. But it’s not His fault. That’s the thing we always seem to forget. Sin was OUR choice. We chose to rebel. We chose to declare our independence from God.

But even though Adam and Eve were experiencing all of these new, negative emotions, it’s actually a beautiful picture of God’s grace. How? Those feelings lead us to repentance. They lead us to be sorry for what we did. They lead to a positive outcome. Just think if we didn’t feel pain. We could burn to death or lose an arm to fire because we didn’t feel the burn. My daughter burned her hand the other day on a hot pan. And I felt so bad (she cried). But pain is actually a good thing.

If we didn’t feel guilty, and if we didn’t want to make it right, we’d be like satan. He doesn’t want to change. Unfortunately, he never will. But I do! And I hope you do too! It leads to repentance, forgiveness, and salvation. And that’s an expression of God’s grace. He could’ve just wiped us out and started over, but He didn’t do that. He does, however, call us to account. He put us in charge of His creation. So we are responsible for our actions. We are accountable for the choices that we make. And that sets the stage for the final part of this passage. We know we can’t hide from God. So when Adam and Eve faced God, He asked them what happened. He already knew, but He wanted them to own up to it. So what happened?

They blamed someone else! Adam said it was Eve’s fault. And Eve said it was the serpent’s fault. She was saying that the devil made me do it! And that’s one of man’s biggest problems! We place the blame on everyone but ourselves. We even have the audacity to blame God and say He’s not a good God or that He’s out to get us. But it’s not His fault. We’re the ones who make the choices. We’re the ones who sin! We can’t have it both ways. This isn’t Burger King. When we declare our independence from God we are accepting the consequences.

Day 4

I wanted to leave us all with one final thought. It’s so easy to get caught up in behavior management. Christians and churches are very good at that. We think that because we don’t sin as bad as the next guy, somehow we’re better off. And we act all prim and proper in the church. We wear our Sunday clothes and we pretend our lives are perfect. Unfortunately, that leaves a sour taste in people’s mouths. And that’s why some people leave the church. That’s why some people will never step foot in a church. They don’t want to have anything to do with church, Christians, or God. And frankly, I don’t blame them.

I saw a horrible post on Facebook last week (and I’ve seen many like it in the past). I’m not going to specifically say what it said, but it was pointing out a sin that another Christian was doing. And this person made it sound like this was the most basic of things Christians shouldn’t do. And they said that they can’t believe that anyone who calls themselves a Christian would do this. It made me sick to my stomach. Yet what they failed to realize was that they were ignoring their own sin. Somehow, in the modern Christian world, we have elevated certain sins over others. For whatever reason we think we’re better off than someone else because we don’t do those sins. That’s ridiculous.

Sin is sin. All it took was one sin to separate us from God. And mine is no better or worse than yours. And vice versa. Living the Christian life is not about behavior management. It’s not about pretending our lives are perfect. We’re all broken. We’re all sinners. However, we have a much better answer to sin than “try harder.” But Satan likes to get us to think we’re better than the other guy. He loves to tempt us the same way he tempted Eve. “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:8-9 NIV).

But it’s not about behavior management. Hopefully our behavior will improve over time as we are led by the Holy Spirit. But in the end, there’s really nothing that we can do to permanently fix it. God had to step in to fix it. We have a much better solution to our sin problem than our own efforts. They always come up short. We can never be good enough to fix the damage on our own. But we do have very GOOD NEWS. And if you want to learn what that is, you’ll have to stop by next week to find out!

Day 5

Questions/Actions to consider…

  1. Why do you think God tests us? Why can’t everything just always happen the way we want? Read James 1:2-4, 12 and see if it helps change your perspective.
  2. Is it fair to think that when we do declare our independence from God that we will get to enjoy the good blessings that He provides even though we are running away from Him? Do we really think we can make our own house rules to His game?
  3. Why are people really mad at God? Is He really not good, unloving, and/or out to get us? What is the root of our anger toward God? Are we really justified in our anger? What’s so bad about God?
  4. How hard is it to admit you’ve done something wrong, whether against God or another person? Is it easy for you? Is it hard? Do you own up to it or do you react like Adam and Eve, place the blame on someone else, and make excuses?
  5. Is it helpful to have a definition of what sin is rather than looking at a list of do’s and don’ts?
  6. What sin do YOU struggle with the most? Is there something in particular that you can’t seem to overcome? Have you ever tried to get help? Or is it easier to hide?

 

You Had Me at Hello

Day One

Jerry Maguire is a classic! I think besides, “Show me the money,” my favorite line is “You had me at hello.” And in the same monologue, he says “You complete me.” And yes, the lines are a little cheesy, but that’s what we remember from movies! And that’s what gets preserved in pop culture. My favorite movies to watch these days are Hallmark movies. My absolute favorite is the Hallmark Christmas movies. We look forward to them every year.

There’s just something about a good love story that keeps people coming back. Even when it’s an action flick, there’s usually always some kind of love interest in the movie. And Hollywood knows that. They know that we all long to see the couple get together and live happily ever after. It’s wired into our DNA as humans. We all long for love. And it’s not just romantic love. We long for relationships. We long to be connected.

And the Mission statement for our church reflects that. We are committed to connecting with God and with people around the table and in the community. That’s what God wants. He wants us to be in a healthy relationship (connected) with Him. And He wants us to be in a healthy relationship (connected) with each other in the church. But He doesn’t stop there. Our entire mission as the church is to go out and help OTHER people get connected with God and with people in the church…There’s only one problem…We’re all broken…We’re selfish…

And our entire American culture is built around thinking about ourselves and our own personal happiness. That is a result of the Fall, which we’ll talk about in the next chapter. But it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s still a LOT of good out there. But in order to restore what’s broken, we need to learn what a healthy relationship looks like. With all the brokenness, it’s hard to know where to start.

But that’s where Genesis Chapter 2 comes in. Last time, we learned about the Creation week in Chapter 1. God created everything in 6 days and rested on the 7th day. And we learned that we (people) are the Crown Jewel of His creation. We learned that we were created in the image of God. We were created to be in charge of God’s creation. But we were also created to have a healthy relationship with God. As His children, created in His image, we have the ability to fellowship with God, to talk to Him. We also reflect His character in a lot of ways.

And in Chapter 2, what we get is a blown-up picture of the creation of man. It’s a supplementary account of the creation of man. It’s like we already took the broad shot of the movie scene and now were shooting the close-up so we can get a good look at what’s going on. So there’s no contradiction. These two chapters are side by side for a reason. He’s finished with the big picture of creation and now He’s narrowing His focus on us. So today’s message is called “You had me at hello.” But before we look at that account in chapter two, I felt the need to share one of God’s deleted scenes from chapter 2. Any good DVD has deleted scenes. Right?

God walked up to Adam one day and said, “Adam, it’s not good that you’re alone. I’m going to create something for you that’s going to blow your socks off! This creature will do everything for you. It will wait on you hand and foot. It will cook and clean for you. It will do all your chores, take care of your kids, and it’ll say whatever you want it to. It will build your spirits up all the time with positive energy and uplifting comments.

 It will never disagree with you. It will literally worship the ground you walk on, kiss your feet, and then apologize for walking on the same ground you walk on. Adam, this is the super deluxe model. I’m calling it Wonder Woman. But…it’s going to cost you.” And with a concerned look Adam replied, “What’s it gonna cost God?” And God said, “It’s gonna cost you an arm and a leg.” After much thought, Adam came back to God and asked, “What can I get for a rib?” (Author Unknown; Hartlaub-ian extras thrown in).

Sorry. That’s one of the few creation jokes I have. I couldn’t resist. We’ll get to the REAL account in just a minute but first we have to summarize the beginning of chapter 2.

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up–for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground (Gen.2:4-6 ESV).

So up to this point there was no rain. And there was no one to work the land. This is actually a foreshadowing of the worldwide flood that’s coming, but that’s still in the future…

then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen.2:7-9 ESV).

So now we don’t just have God creating man. Now we have God personally creating man out of the dust of the earth and breathing into him the breath of life. Plus, He didn’t just throw him on the earth. God custom made this garden as a home, ready to go with food and beauty…

A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates (Gen.2:10-14 ESV).

So the location given here probably meant something to the original readers. We know where the Tigris and Euphrates are. But we have no idea about the other rivers or places named here. Most people assume it’s somewhere in modern day Iraq and/or somewhere close to the Persian Gulf. But we really don’t know. It might’ve been completely destroyed by the flood. It might be covered up by a body of water. But the point here is that God set us up for success. He gave us food, a home, He put us in charge of His creation, and He loves us.

Day Two

1. God gave us boundaries for our benefit not to bully us. 

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen.2:15-17 ESV).

So the first relationship that we need to focus on is our relationship with God. If our mission as the church is to connect with God and with people (and if we want to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus, which is to make disciples), our first priority HAS to be to have a healthy relationship with God. And what is the recipe for a healthy relationship with God? He gives it to us right here in these three verses. We can’t possibly think that we can make healthy disciples or run a healthy church if we’re not first connected to God in a healthy way. It all starts with Him.

And this first sentence is rich with meaning. The word put, in English, is a word that we would probably ignore. But in the original language, it carries with it the sense of rest, safety, and fellowship with God. God put Adam there for good reason. He put him there for rest, safety, and fellowship. Eve wasn’t created yet. There was no fellowship with people yet. But fellowship with God was the first and foremost priority.

It’s like when you bring an infant home from the hospital. You don’t just put them on the floor or outside on the lawn and say Go get a job. No. You put the baby in the crib where it can sleep, rest, poop and pee in its diaper, cry, and be safe. And the parents keep the baby safe. They sing to him and read to him and hold him, but then they put him back in the crib to rest. And then over time (as they baby grows), he can have more and more freedom as he’s able to do more. And that’s kind of what God was doing here with Adam. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a one on one with God (live in person)? What if you could ask Him anything you wanted, freely talk with Him, and get an answer (live in person)? Adam could do that. He had a sweet deal!

But God didn’t just PUT Adam in the garden, He gave him stuff to do. His responsibility was to take care of that garden. Adam had to go to work! God has always expected us to work. It’s just that before sin entered the world, work was totally enjoyable. In my case, if I was driving kids to school (in the bus), in the Garden of Eden, all of the kids would obey me. It would be a total joy. And no other cars would hit my bus on the way! I wouldn’t have to write any referrals. For you, no matter where you worked, it would be a joy. There would be no workplace gossip, no struggles, no worrying about paying the bills. It would be a JOY to work. Adam had the best job ever. He had great benefits. No healthcare costs. Money wasn’t an issue.

And working the land was also a joy. There were no weeds. There was no frustration. He didn’t even have to water the garden. God took care of watering the garden. For Adam, working the garden was fun. This past week, I was longing for life in the Garden because there was a stubborn stump I couldn’t get out. The tractor wasn’t helping. The chainsaw wouldn’t cut it because the stem was too far underground. Needless to say, it was NOT a joy to work the land that day! That stupid stump is STILL there. I had to cut it off and bury it under the dirt! But Adam was lucky in the beginning because he didn’t have to deal with that! Work was a joy.

But God did give Adam one rule. He gave Adam a TON of freedom. Adam could do almost anything he wanted. He could eat anything he wanted. But God said that that there’s this one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that he couldn’t eat from. God said, Just stay away from that one tree and you’ll be fine. But if you eat from it, you’re not going to live forever. You’re eventually going to die. So there was a reason for the rule. God was protecting Adam. Again, it’s like a parent protecting a child. Rules are there for a reason. And they’re actually meant to create a positive result. It’s not to punish us. It’s to protect us.

But what do kids do as soon as we tell them NOT to do something? It’s like the only thing they want to do! As soon as we say they can’t do something, their natural, human response is to want to do what they can’t! That’s all they focus on. And Christians do that too. They focus on the negative. They focus on what they CAN’T do instead of focusing on the incredible FREEDOM that God gives us. It drives me crazy. And it ends up as legalism. Legalism is when we focus so much on what we can’t do that we make up all these rules on what we can’t do. And we make it so clear what we‘re against, that no one knows what we’re FOR. Unfortunately, that leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths when we leave out God’s blessings and His good gifts.

But that wasn’t God’s intention. God gave us boundaries for our benefit not to bully us. He’s not out to get us. He’s not punishing us. He’s protecting us. But there are consequences when we disobey. There are consequences to our actions. When children disobey, the parents have to step in and punish. But it’s for their own good. So the point here is not to focus on the negative. It’s to focus on the positive. Facebook drives me crazy. So many people focus on all the negative stuff (politics, family, and work drama). But my goal is to focus on the positive. I try to post stuff that’s encouraging (except when the Eagles are losing; I do slip up sometimes).

But why did God do that? Why didn’t He just make it all exactly the way He wanted and not allow Adam a choice? People have been asking that question for thousands of years! But part of the answer is because God wanted us to choose love Him. God already loves us. But He wants our love back to be genuine. You can’t have genuine love if the one side has no choice in the matter. That would make us robots. And that was NOT God’s desire. So He gave Adam a choice. He tested him. But we can’t have it both ways. There are consequences to whatever choice we make and whatever choices other people make. God loves us enough to let some people choose to not love Him. Unfortunately, those choices touch all of us in some way (good and bad).

So here’s a recipe for a healthy relationship (connection) with God.

a. Resting in what God provides. Focusing on what we don’t have leads to temptation and running away from God. But if we focus on what He has provided we can relax, enjoy life, and fellowship with God instead of worrying all the time.

b. Serving Him. God didn’t design us all the same. We all have different gifts and personalities. And if we focus on using what He gave us to serve Him and to bring Him glory, our relationship with Him will be healthy. But if we choose selfishness, it leads to a disconnected relationship with God because we’re not living by His design.

c. Being obedient to His will. If He created us, and if He’s our Father (and He is), then He gets to make the rules. But we have to remember it’s for our own good. He’s our Father and He’s looking out for us. So we need to follow and play by His rules. However, the deeper issue is trust. Do we trust God? Do we really believe that He is good (like we talked about last week)? We have to trust that He is good, that He knows best, and that He has a plan. God gave us boundaries for our benefit not to bully us.

Day Three

2. God gave us relationships to complement each other not to compete with each other.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him (Gen.2:18-20 ESV).

So this could’ve been a bit awkward. I’m picturing the giraffe smiling and winking at Adam. And Adam says, You know, I don’t think it’s gonna work out. You’re up there and I’m down here. How would we kiss and hug? That would just be weird. Or maybe when the skunk came to Adam, he was like, If you spray me every time we have an argument, I’m walking out that door! But seriously, back in chapter one where God was creating, He said that everything He made was good. But in this passage something is NOT good. He says, It is not good that the man should be alone. And there’s a reason for that. We were created as relational creatures. And God is not alone either. It is true that we only have one God. But our God exists as a Tri-Unity (Trinity). He is in perfect relationship with Himself as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But God created us to relate to as well. He wants us to know Him. But He also wants the Crown Jewel of His creation (people) to have a partner to relate to.

And the idea is that man, alone, is incomplete. He’s lacking something. So when God says that He will make a helper for him, that’s what He meant. He meant that the helper (the woman) makes up for what’s lacking in the man. And that’s why that line in Jerry Maguire is not just funny. It’s also profound (You complete me). It’s theologically correct. We need someone to complete us (in marriage). But it also applies to ALL relationships. People need people.

As humans, we weren’t meant to be alone. We are relational creatures. We need friends and family. We can go without the bells and whistles of life. We can go without all the fancy things and newest tech gadgets. But we can’t go without relationships. It’s just as important as food and water. Loneliness is not good. People need people. We need each other. We need to share things with each other and hang out with each other. We need to encourage each other. We need to challenge each other. Otherwise, we might become the Unabomber

Where it goes wrong though is when we try to outdo each other, control each other, and fight for power over each other. God gave us relationships to complement each other not to compete with each other. Relationships aren’t supposed to be competitive. When it comes to sports, I’m very competitive. That’s why family game nights get a little scary. It can get crazy and become not very fun pretty quick when someone’s not winning. And then the rage comes out. So we’ve learned over the years when to stop. We usually have a short window of time where it’s fun, and then it goes downhill quickly.

And no one’s immune from it. Couples compete with each other, even if they don’t realize it. They get caught up in who makes the most money, who does the most work outside or inside the house, and who has the most friends. They compete over power. They give each other the silent treatment when they don’t get their way. They argue. And they get back at each other by trying to manipulate and control each other. It’s crazy. And then it goes really downhill when the competition turns to punishment. If a spouse is withholding something from the other (like money, sex, or anything they like to do together), the one who’s left out starts to look somewhere else to find it. And that leads to a break in the relationship, which is not God’s desire.

Obviously, I know stuff happens (and God knows). My desire is not to make anyone feel guilty. God is gracious and He can make good things come out of bad. However, He wants us to have healthy relationships that last, whether we’re talking about husbands and wives, families, and/or friends. We are relational creatures. We need each other. But God’s desire was for us to complement each other, not compete with each other. And I believe that God’s desire was that we be equal partners in relationships. It’s not about who’s in charge.

It’s about the fact that we need each other. We are all equal. It’s not about who makes the most money or who has the best toys. If we have a lot of cool toys, maybe the best thing to do is to share them for everyone’s good instead of hoarding them for ourselves. And I think that’s why God includes the animals here. God wasn’t expecting an animal to get married to Adam. The point was that Adam was in charge of God’s creation and he had the responsibility of naming the animals. But Adam needed a helper to share his life with. Something was missing. God had to create something else (a helper), just like Adam, but different enough to make up for what was missing. And that’s where the woman comes in.

But before we get to the woman, here’s a good recipe for a healthy relationship (connection) with people. And this is primarily for spouses, but it works for all relationships.

a. Be who YOU are. Every one of us is different. If we were all the same, there would be no need for other people. But we’re NOT self-sufficient. We need people. Other people have things that we don’t and vice versa. So bring what you have to the table and allow your friends, family, and spouse to be who they are. There’s no need to fight for power or prestige. My kids drive me crazy when they ask us who’s better at something. It’s ok if someone is better at something. We all have different things we’re good at. Some of us are good at a LOT of things but not great at anything. Some people are great at one thing only. That’s ok. Celebrate and support each other. It’s not a competition. And we don’t need to force people to be like us or to be something they’re not.

b.Look outside yourself. Whether it’s your spouse, girlfriend, brother, sister, co-worker, use something you’ve been blessed with for the good of someone else. It’s not all about YOU. Make a sacrifice for someone else. Our culture teaches us to look out for number 1. But Jesus said to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt.22:39). And that’s what He did. Jesus left the comforts of heaven and moved into our neighborhood. He made great sacrifices to come here. Plus, He made the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. Paul said to consider other people better than ourselves (Phil.2:3-4). Imagine if we all thought that way. That’s what relationships are all about. It’s about benefitting someone else, not selfishly taking everything for me, myself, and I.

c.Cheer someone on. The world has enough critics and negativity. I’m not saying don’t be honest with people. We do need honesty. But a healthy relationship will consist of friends cheering each other on and supporting each other. It’s ok if someone accomplishes something that YOU don’t. Be happy for them and cheer them on. This is important for spouses too. You guys are on the same team. You were meant to complement each other. So there’s no need to be a critic, compete, or to be jealous.

Day Four

3. God gave us spouses for the long haul not to leave when the going gets tough.

So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed (Gen.2:21-25 ESV).

Martin Luther made a profound observation about this Scripture. He said that in making the woman out of Adam’s rib (out of his side), God was signifying equality. Remember, she was his complement. She made up what was lacking in him and vice versa. So by taking a rib and making Eve, God was stressing that they were a team, they were equal, and they were one flesh. If God would’ve used a foot, He might’ve signified that he was to rule over Eve, but God didn’t do that. You would think that if God took out Adam’s brain it would’ve meant Eve was to rule over him, but He didn’t do that either. Although sometimes men do think with lower parts of their body so it does seem, at times, that we don’t HAVE a brain, but that’s a discussion for another day…

Now Adam did get to name her, just like he got to name the animals. But even the very name signified the equality of their relationship. He called her woman. In Hebrew, ish is the word for man and ishah is the word for woman. They sound related (because they are). It’s a beautiful illustration of the fact that they really do complete each other. And that’s what marriage is all about. It’s an equal partnership between two people, who might have different roles and gifts (just like in any relationship), but equal weight. Marriage was never intended to be a dictatorship where the husband rules and the wife manipulates to get what she wants. That was not God’s design for marriage. It was never a competition or a war. Adam specifically said, This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. He was emphasizing that he recognized that they belonged together as one.

So what comes next in a marriage? They form a new home. When it says they become one flesh it means that they are bonded together as one, in a close relationship (which includes the spiritual, emotional, mental, and the physical). There’s no longer just a me and you. It’s now US. It’s WE. Leaving father and mother means they are establishing a new home. It doesn’t mean they forget mom and dad. But they make their own decisions now as a couple. And in leaving mom and dad they’re saying this is a permanent change.

God gave us spouses for the long haul not to leave when the going gets tough. Whenever I do a wedding, I always meet with the couple anywhere from 4-6 times. And there’s certain points I always like to bring out. And one of those points is that things will change over time. “No matter how secure (or how in love) you both are right now, things will change. People change. Jobs will change. Your financial situation might change many times. Houses come and go. Friends come and go. You may or may not have children. You’ll have times of plenty and times of need. And when that happens, you’ll need to support each other. You’re a team. You’re an equal partnership. But it also takes time to blend your lives together. It doesn’t happen overnight. So we can’t run at the first sign of trouble…” (An Excerpt from one of my Wedding Sermons).

And that applies to church planting as well. Abe and I were practicing this past week and as we were singing through Good Good Father, I had this major revelation. I was really enjoying our rehearsal. I was enjoying the process of having a song come together. And it reminded me that I can’t expect this church to pick up where my last one left off. It takes time. It takes time to develop relationships with people. And God will bring in who is supposed to be here when they’re supposed to be here. And it will happen over time. We’re still in the pre-launch phase. And the point is to connect with God and with people. Relationships don’t happen in a hurry. It takes time and commitment.

And marriages are the same. They don’t just happen. It takes work and commitment. We can’t run at the first sign of trouble. When we become one flesh, we make a commitment for the long haul. And no two relationships are the same. So my marriage is different, because no one else is quite like me or Olivia. And our family is unique because no one has the same four awesome children. Our family is unique and separate from all others. But we are committed to each other. And we have our problems just like anyone else. But we work through them and we do the best we can, because we’re in it for the long haul…

Before we get to our final recipe, we have to look at the last verse. This is one of the best lines in the Bible. It says that the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. When I’m talking to people (people who don’t believe), a lot of times they’ll say that heaven is going to be boring and they’d rather go to hell and party with their friends. So when I hear that, I realize they have no idea what heaven will be like…Adam and Eve had heaven on earth…

There was no sin yet. They were in the perfect environment as husband and wife. And they were naked. And I can assure you that they were not just holding hands and picking flowers all day long or sitting on clouds. Heaven is where it’s at. I don’t know what people want in hell, but I don’t want anything to do with excessive heat, burning, and/or a lake of fire. What I am interested in is running around naked all day long with no shame, guilt free, worry free, and experiencing God’s eternal blessings (and possibly having six pack abs…But I digress…).

Here’s a recipe for a healthy relationship (connection) with your spouse.

a. Marriage is an equal partnership. Believe it or not, the roles of men and woman vary greatly from culture to culture. And that’s fine. But God’s intention from the beginning is that a husband and wife are a team. Each one of us brings something different to the table. So it’s not about what a MAN or a WOMAN has to be or do. It’s about two individuals becoming one flesh and each one brings something different to the table that complements the other.

So it doesn’t always have to be the MAN does this and the WOMAN does that. Each couple is unique. Marriage is an equal partnership and each couple has to figure out what works for them. And that’s how I approach marriage coaching. YOU don’t have to run your household like WE do. You run it how it works for you. And I would also expect you to allow me the freedom to run my household in a way that works for my family. None of us are the same. We’re all unique. But the husband and wife are equals even though they bring different things to the table. So they might have different roles in the marriage but they are equal partners.

b. Marriage is until death do us part. Jesus gave His stamp of approval on this one. He said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt.19:4-6 ESV). Running when the going gets tough is not God’s desire or design. Divorce should not be the first option we think of when we have a problem. I realize divorce does happen and sometimes it IS for the best.

And God can make good things come out of some of our greatest disappointments in life. Praise God that He is a God of second chances! So if anyone reading this is divorced, this is NOT a guilt trip of any kind. But we are looking at God’s design for healthy relationships and marriages. And God’s design is for it to be for the long haul. So instead of ending a marriage when things get hard, get help. The church can and should be a part of that help. If even half the couples would get on board with these two simple truths (that we are equal partners and that it’s for the long haul), we could cut the divorce rate in two. If we actually opened the lines of communication and just talked through our issues (and would be willing to compromise), we could save countless marriages and families.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Cor.13:4-8 NIV). And God is love. He loves us. And He wants us to love each other with a love that considers other people, not just ourselves. He designed us for relationship. And love considers the other person while the other person considers us. That’s basic relationship 101. And basic relationship 101 says, You had me at hello. It says, We need to work this out because I can’t function without you. You complete me. And that goes for our relationship with God, with people, with our family, and with our spouse.

Day Five

Questions to consider…

  1. Why do you think God’s rules offend people?
  2. Are you introverted or extroverted? Do you like being around people? Do you see the need for healthy relationships? Or would you rather be by yourself?
  3. What do you enjoy about being around certain people that you call friends? Do you enjoy their company? Do you feel that it’s a competition? Or is it just nice to be around somebody and have someone to talk to?
  4. Does equality in the marriage relationship interest you? Do you have any preconceived notions about what a marriage should be or about what the roles of the husband or wife should be? Read Ephesians 5:22-33 and discuss how it relates to Genesis 2 and relationships between a husband and wife.

You’re A Good Good Father

DAY 1

Have you ever been mad at God? Have you ever thought He should do something but He didn’t? I’ve been there. Somehow (at some point), I think we’ve all thought we could do a better job. It’s not true. And we really don’t think we can. But by our words and actions, we are saying that. The truth, if we’re being honest with ourselves, is that there are times when we doubt God. And we doubt that He is good. It’s a dark place to be, but I’ve been there. Maybe you have too. If not, I’m sorry to inform you but it’s probably coming!

And it’s frustrating when He doesn’t seem to answer. It’s frustrating when He doesn’t seem to come through when we need Him the most. It’s frustrating when He doesn’t do what we want Him to when we want Him to do it. Isn’t it? We could have the best of intentions with whatever we’re doing, but when God doesn’t come through it really takes the wind out of our sails. And then the anger sets in. And if we’re not careful, it could lead to the feeling (or the belief) that if God doesn’t come through, He either doesn’t care or He just doesn’t exist. Or we think that maybe He’s not good. Maybe He LIKES to see us suffer. Those are horrible thoughts. But those are just a few ways some people could stop talking to God, leave the church, and end up not believing in God at all.

That’s why I love the Bruce Almighty movie. Have you seen it? If not, you should watch it! Bruce says a lot of things that we’ve all thought at one time or another. As for me, I love to learn what people think about God because it gives me insight into how they got to where they are in their belief system. It helps me to know how to reach them better. It also helps to shake stupid thoughts that come into my head. Because when I start to think like that I can be quickly reminded of how ridiculous and unfair I’m being.

Once upon a time there was a scientist. And as he was speaking to God one day, he said some pretty bold things. He said, “God, we don’t need you anymore. Science has put YOU out of a job. We can do everything by ourselves. We can even create life and clone life. We can cure diseases. We don’t need YOU anymore God. You’re obsolete. We don’t need Your outdated rules and ways.” And God looked at him and said, “Great. Why don’t we have a creation competition? Let’s see what we both can come up with, something new and awesome, something that’s never been done before. You go first.” And the scientist, with a fire in his eyes said, “Absolutely.” Then he picked up some dirt and got ready to work. But God jumped in and said, “Get your own dirt…” (Source Unknown; I’ve heard it many times and in many ways over the years; this is simply my version of the story).

Ouch! Burn! That’s what my kids would say. But most people, at some level, at least believe that a god exists. They might not ever do anything about getting to know this generic god but they at least believe in a higher power. In college, I was surprised to learn that there’s only about 15% of people in the world that consider themselves atheists. That’s a pretty low number. But even then, I would guess that most of that 15% isn’t even really atheist. I believe that most are simply mad at God and they lost their faith somewhere along the line (at least American atheists). But no matter how much they lie to themselves, the truth is that you can’t be mad at a God you don’t believe in…

Only fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! God looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one!” (Psalm 53:1-3 NLT). Again, I believe that most people believe that there is some kind of higher power. If they say they don’t believe, they’re either mad at God or perhaps they don’t want to change their lifestyle. They don’t want to pursue Him because they know it would mean that their lives would have to change. They’re not seeking God because they’re too busy pursuing selfish actions.

But the proof of the existence of God is right in front of our faces every single day. “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world” (Psalm 19:1-4 NLT). We took a family vacation to South Dakota last summer. It was some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen in my sheltered life. Mostly, I’ve just traveled up and down the east coast. I have been to Israel once. And that was beautiful, but it was beautiful for different reasons. But I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as South Dakota.

And as I was taking it in, while driving and almost crashing the car several times (Olivia hates when I sight-see and drive. I don’t know why.), I couldn’t help but praise God. Because I know that nothing that beautiful could have just happened by chance or evolution. It was created and designed by the Grand Designer, God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth. There’s just no good excuse for denying it.

“They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” (Rom.1:19-20 NLT). So in this series, I’m going to give us all more reasons to have no excuse for not knowing God. And hopefully by the end of the summer, we will have covered the entire introduction to the Bible, which is the first 12 chapters of Genesis. And we’ll learn how we got into this beautiful mess called life. But this first message in the series is titled, You’re a Good Good Father. Since it IS Father’s Day, I thought there was no better example than the Original Father! We might not always understand what He’s doing, but He is a Good Good Father. That’s Who He is.

DAY 2

1. God is Good Because He Created Something From Nothing and Gave it Form.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day” (Gen.1:1-13 ESV).

So here we have the first three days. And those first four words are pretty significant. It says, “In the beginning, God….” That is a bold statement. It’s true. But it’s bold. It’s important to know right off the bat that the Bible never tries to prove the existence of God. It just assumes it. And there is no attempt here to give a scientific explanation of creation. That was not God’s intent here. The Bible assumes God’s existence. A scientific explanation would’ve meant nothing to the original readers. We’re just being given the basics here.

But it’s highly significant because at the time this was written, people were already running away from God and worshiping idols. They were worshiping the sun and all kinds of other false gods. So all God is giving us here is a basic rundown of what He created. There was no fight between ancient gods. Nothing in creation was to be worshiped. God is the One who created it all. And it was for a specific purpose. But all He was doing here was giving us practical information that we need to know about what He was creating and providing. There was no science involved in the explanation and there are definitely things He left out because His original readers (and us) wouldn’t have been able to comprehend it anyway! We weren’t ready for it yet.

It’s like when a little child asks that famous question. Mommy (Daddy), where do babies come from? Ever tried to explain that one to a little child? The best answer, of course, is You’ll have to ask mommy about that…That’s what I did the first time Amelia asked me that question! But seriously, you can’t explain that to a little child. They’re not ready to hear the answer. Even if you tell them everything, they won’t understand. It’s too much. They can’t comprehend it. So all we end up saying is that when two people fall in love they get married and have kids. And that’s true. You don’t fill in all the messy details. But what the child does understand is that mommy and daddy love each other, they love their kids, and they provide everything they need.

And that’s what God’s doing here. He’s saying, All these false gods people are following and worshiping are not really gods. They didn’t do anything. Creation wasn’t the result of a battle between gods. And humans are NOT slaves to the gods. Here’s what happened at creation…And then He goes on to tell us. And it’s very simple. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And at the beginning, what He created was without form and empty. So what does He do? He starts to give form to what doesn’t have form. He’s like a potter forming a lump of clay into a beautiful piece of artwork.

And as He’s giving it form, He starts to separate things. There was already darkness, so He says, “‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.” Then He separates light from darkness. And He gives them names. He calls the light Day and the Darkness He calls night. And then something else really awesome happens. He sets something in motion that’s highly significant for us. It says that “there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” On the first day, God creates TIME. Again, those first four words, “In the beginning, God,” are highly significant. He’s simply referring to the time period of creation. “In the beginning” is not God’s beginning. He’s eternal. He’s not bound by time. It’s simply a reference to the first seven days He’s talking about here in the first two chapters of Genesis. But time means something to the readers. It means something to us. And on that first day of creation, God creates time. The clock is now ticking. And we have the first day.

And then on the second day He separates the water from the sky. So now we have a climate. We have weather. On the first day He created time. And on the second day He gives us weather. So what happens on day three? He separates more. He gives more form to what was formless. He separates the water from the dry land. And then He does something really cool. He creates plants and trees on the land. So He provides a food source (not to mention great beauty). I can’t even imagine what it might have looked like in the beginning. I’ve already mentioned South Dakota. And I’m sure you have favorite places to visit too. But can you imagine what it looked like in the beginning when everything was perfect, just how God designed it, and man didn’t have a chance to screw it up yet?

And then He says that it was good. In fact, He’s said it like three times already during the first three days of creation. He said it was good. He was satisfied with it. It was just right. It was good. So in the first three days, God creates something out of nothing. And then he forms what was without form. And of course, this flies in the face of evolution. Evolution says that things happened by chance over millions of years. But that’s not the explanation we get here. We have the Creator, God. And He creates this beautiful paradise with form and beauty. There’s nothing random about it. It sounds like He knew what He was doing. And He says that it’s good. It’s just right. It’s designed exactly the way He wanted it to be.

So why is God good? God is Good Because He Created Something From Nothing and Gave it Form. Have you ever made anything from scratch? Have you ever made a gift for someone rather than buying it? That’s why I love it when my kids make stuff for us. It’s so much more special when thought goes into a gift rather than just giving cash or a gift card. It’s special when someone takes the time to think of something you would like and then makes it for you. So hand-made cards and gifts from my kids or my wife is special. But it takes thought. It takes time. It takes effort. It’s custom made. It’s just for me. And that’s what God did here. He custom made creation. And we haven’t even heard it all yet! We’ve only covered three days! There’s much more to come! And we don’t even know WHY He created it yet. But His creation is awesome and perfect and good. And He’s a good good Father. That’s WHO He is!

DAY 3

2. God is Good Because He Created Lights and Living Things to Fill What He Formed.

“And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. And God made the two great lights–the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night–and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. And God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.’ So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day” (Gen.1:14-23 ESV).

So here we have the next two days. This is day 4 and 5. And what’s happening here is that God starts to fill up what He just created and formed. God begins to bring life to His creation. He fills (with life) what was formed, but empty. And again, Father’s Day was just a few days ago. So if you got a gift for dad (perhaps a tool box), you probably didn’t give him an empty toolbox unless he already had all the tools he needed. I’m not sure that’s even possible. There’s always new gadgets to buy! But seriously, you wouldn’t give dad an empty toolbox for Father’s Day. You’d give him tools to go in the box.

Outside, in our yard, we have a pool. How cruel would it be if we got our kids an empty pool? That would be weird. Olivia and I didn’t do that. We filled it up with water. We didn’t realize it would take the better part of a week to fill it up, but we did fill it up with water. And we did a good job too! We included a kiddie pool. Most people can’t do that with an above ground pool, but since we’re awesome, we were able to make it deep on one side and shallow on another. And that wasn’t a mistake. It wasn’t because we didn’t know what we were doing and didn’t realize the pool wasn’t level. That’s not it at all! It’s a kiddie pool at one end and a regular pool at the other!

But seriously. We filled it up. We didn’t give them an empty pool. And we also filled it with some fun toys too. We bought some beach balls, noodles, and water-squirty things. So we filled up the pool with some fun to go with the water. The point was so they could have fun. The point was so they could also invite their friends over to play and have fun. We set them up for success, not failure. And God did the same thing with His creation. He filled up what was empty. He set us up for success. And that’s another reason why God is SO good. God is Good Because He Created Lights and Living Things to Fill What He Formed.

So on day four we get the sun and moon. Now, He doesn’t mention them by name, but it’s clear that’s what He’s talking about. But there was a reason He didn’t say SUN or MOON. Again, there was rampant idol worship at the time. People were worshipping the sun, moon, and stars. So God is making the point that you shouldn’t worship the creation. You need to worship the Creator! And there’s only one Creator. It’s God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. But here He does give us the sun and moon on day four. And then He says, Oh by the way, I also created the stars, like it’s an afterthought. Of course, it’s not an afterthought, but that wasn’t the focus. The focus was what He was creating here on planet earth.

And maybe that’s another reason WHY we didn’t get a scientific explanation. He doesn’t want us worshiping science either. He wants us in awe of Him. He’s the One who created all this. He’s the focus. But it IS crazy when you add in the science. When I was studying for this section, I was amazed to learn that our galaxy (not the whole universe) spins at 490,000 mph! But it’s so big that to even spin one time, it would take 200 million years to rotate just one time. That’s a large galaxy to say the least! I can’t even comprehend that! But then you have to add to that the fact that there are billions of more galaxies out there other than just ours. Our God is a GREAT God!

But He created all that on day four. And then on day five, He created life in the sea and birds. So He created all the fish and life in the ocean, but then He also created the birds that fly. That was day five. He filled up the ocean and the sky with life, with living creatures. And He said that it was good. But here’s a good question. Did you notice a problem? Does it bother you that there was light before God created the sun? It shouldn’t because God doesn’t need those lights. We do. But He doesn’t. And since we weren’t around yet it really doesn’t matter does it? No.

Those lights were for us to mark times and seasons. He already created time. But now we have a way to mark time. And lights were created so we could see to get around. And since we weren’t around yet. It doesn’t matter that there was light before those things were created. God doesn’t need the sun for light. He has His own light. We need the sun and moon and stars for light. He was thinking of us because He’s good. He’s a good good Father. That’s who He is!

DAY 4

3. God is Good Because He Created Us and Put Us in Charge of His Creation.

“And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds–livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.’ And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day” (Gen.1:24-31 ESV).

So now we’re in the sixth day of creation. And the first thing God does on Day Six is create all the land animals and all the little bugs that drive us crazy (all the creepy crawly things). So if there was any doubt when an animal was created, it was on this day. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking dinosaurs or dragonflies. It was on Day Six. And the next thing He creates on Day Six is us (people). So yes, dinosaurs and people co-existed together, at least for a period of time. We don’t know how long. We don’t know all the details, but if all the animals and people were created on the same day, we were not separated by millions of years.

There was no catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs, followed by millions of years, followed by people evolving into what we are now. There is no evolution according to the Bible. God created everything. He knew what He was doing. He doesn’t need evolution. There was great order and beauty to everything He created. And this is the account that He gave us. If you ever want to dive into that more and need resources, check out answersingenesis.org. That is an amazing resource with very smart people that know a lot more about the book of Genesis than I’ll ever know. And they have a LOT of science to back up what they say. That’s the same group that built the Creation Museum in Kentucky. They also built a life-sized version of Noah’s Ark and turned it into a museum.

But that’s not the most important issue in this last section of chapter one. I know people like to get bogged down in all of that. But the most important part of the introduction to the Bible is when God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” And then He goes on to put us in charge of everything He just created. He says, Be fruitful and multiply. Have a lot of kids! And you’re in charge of this entire planet I just created. All of this is for you guys! Surprise! Happy Birthday guys!

So I really only want to point out two main things about Day Six. It’s not that I want to ignore the other parts of what He said. I love animals. I love our cats we just got. People love their pets. Animals are great. That’s fantastic. Dinosaurs are fascinating. It’s a great thing to study out and look into. So I’m not trying to ignore all that, but I also don’t want us to miss the obvious. Sometimes we get bogged down in the details and we miss the obvious. We miss what’s right in front of our faces.

So here’s the first thing. We were created in the image of God. He doesn’t say that about anything else He created, other than man (and woman). We were created in His image. Now that’s not a physical thing. It’s more of a spiritual, relational, and emotional kind of thing. We know God is spirit and we worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). But just because we were created in His image, it doesn’t mean that we’re God or that we’ll ever become gods like some cults teach. But we do reflect the character of God in some ways. We’re able to relate to Him, to have a relationship with Him. We can talk to Him, we’re creative like Him, we can have emotions, purpose, and we can LOVE.

He doesn’t say that about the animals or birds or fish in the sea. He said that about us. We were created in His image. He is our Father. And He is a good good Father. That’s WHO He is.  So Day Six of creation is like the first and best Father’s Day ever because that’s when we were created! And we were created in His image. He didn’t leave us alone to fend for ourselves. We are able to have a relationship with Him. We’re able to talk to Him. He’s not some big white guy in the sky with a long beard waiting to strike us down. He is a loving Father that takes great care of His kids and wants to raise them right! But that’s not all!

Here’s the second thing. He put us in charge! He said we were created in His image and this was all created for us! Now, we don’t really OWN it. It’s all His. But we are caretakers (stewards) of what He created. We are responsible to take care of what God put us in charge of. We are the crown jewel of God’s creation. We are valuable to God. All through this account, God said that what He had made was good. But on this day, He didn’t say it was good. He said it was VERY GOOD. God is a Father who certainly knows how to give good gifts to His kids. He’s a good good Father. That’s WHO he is.

So why is God good? God is Good Because He Created Us and Put Us in Charge of His Creation. Creating is anything but easy. Forming something that has no form takes creativity. Making something from nothing is easier said than done. And God is the only One that’s ever done that. But there was a purpose behind it all. When we moved to Harford County, the main thing I wanted to do was to make a front yard so my kids could play outside. And when we first moved in there were so many trees. Our front yard was not there. It was all trees. The pool (and fire-pit) was not there. It was all trees. It was an incredible amount of hard work to clear the land. And I have the injuries to prove it! I fell off a ladder. I almost chopped my leg off with the chainsaw (that was not a fun day). And every muscle in my body hurt. And that’s just for the front yard. There’s still hundreds of jobs left to do. But there’s a reason behind why I’m so motivated to do it and why I’m keeping it up…It’s for my kids…It’s for my family…

And it’s also for YOU (the person who might not read this until it’s been out for quite a while). Part of moving down here to Harford County was so that this could be a place where people could come to know Jesus, grow in the faith, and gather to worship God. There was a purpose behind it. And it was also for my family. We want this to be a place we can enjoy together now. We want it to be a place that we can invite our friends and our kids’ friends to come over and play and hang out. But we also want it to be a place we can gather in the future when we have grand-kids and great grand-kids.

So what’s the grand motivation? Love. Love is why we do what we do. And love is why God does what He does. He is love (1 John 4:8). And He is good (Psalm 136:1). Of course, God is perfectly happy and content. He is fulfilled and relates perfectly to Himself (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). He didn’t need us. But He loved us, and wanted to share His love with us (before we were even created). He’s a good good Father. That’s WHO He is. We don’t always understand Him. And we might get mad at Him, like Bruce Almighty, when things are spiraling out of control. But He is good. And we are created in His image. And we were meant to share His love.

DAY 5

So what happened on day seven?

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Gen.2:1-3 ESV).

God rested on the 7th day to enjoy His perfect creation and to set an example for us. We need rest. God doesn’t need rest. But we do. His creation was no longer formless or empty. It was perfectly ordered, formed, and filled! So He set a day aside to enjoy it! It’s OK to enjoy God’s creation and blessings! We all need to stop and look around and enjoy what God has provided! We can’t work all the time. We can’t work ourselves to death. We need rest. We need to recharge. We need to chill out and enjoy what God provides! The world won’t explode if you take a day off! I promise. The world will go on.

I’m one of the biggest offenders of that. It’s VERY hard for me to take a day off because there’s always so much to do. But we need rest. We all need time to enjoy what God has provided. God never intended to work us to death with no fun. He designed a day of rest every week for us to enjoy Him and His creation. We ALL need to slow down and enjoy life. Most people think the Sabbath Day is for worship. But it’s not. It’s for rest. We CAN worship on that day. But the point is to rest. That’s what the word Sabbath means. It means rest. God is Good Because He Created a Day of Rest and Set the Example for Us. And when we don’t rest, it’s just one more way we’re disobeying God. And then somehow in the process we get mad at Him because we’re exhausted. Go figure. He told us to rest. He told us to take a day off.

And that’s what we all hope for and desire even if we don’t consciously realize it. We work ourselves to death. Why? Because we want to save money for retirement. We want to someday rest from all of our hard work. As Christians, we desire heaven. Why? Because we get to rest and be with God forever. But the problem is that we always put rest in the future. However, God designed lots of rest for us in the here and now. We can rest one day a week. That’s what Saturday is for. It’s for rest. Traditionally, in America we don’t get one day of rest, we get two! Unfortunately, we usually just fill it with more and more work.

So going forward that’s one thing we all need to learn and I would love for us to learn it together. And again, I’m a hypocrite when it comes to this, but everything we’ve been doing over the past few months since we moved here was designed so we could wind down, recharge, and rest. And I want YOU to come along for the journey and learn to rest WITH us. You’re gonna hear the words Missional and Missional Community a lot over the next few weeks, months, and years!

And the first time you hear about it and what our purpose is in the church (making disciples and doing life together), it’s going to sound overwhelming. You’re gonna think, I can’t do all of that. I don’t have time. But in the end, my desire is not to add anything to our schedules. My desire is to actually ease the burden. My desire, and God’s desire, is to take things OUT of our schedules. Doing life together is about including each other in what we’re already doing, not adding more busyness to a plate that’s already full. The point is to apply the brakes, stop and look around, and enjoy life. We want to discover God’s good gift of REST. He gave us rest because He knows we need it. He’s a good good Father. That’s WHO He is!

Questions/Actions to consider…

  1. Have you ever doubted God? Have you ever doubted that He was good? If so, how did it change the way you lived your life? Did you rebel? Did it draw you closer to Him? 
  2. Do you have friends and/or family that ask you questions about God? What kinds of questions do they ask? Are they questions about creation? Science? The troubles of life (like relational issues or finances)?
  3. When people ask questions about God or claim that it’s outdated or that science replaces God, do they ask specific questions and/or give specific examples or are their comments general and broad? When you refer them to a website or a book do they go and check it out or simply dismiss it?
  4. Instead of arguing with someone about the Bible (or preaching at them), have you ever considered NOT talking about it and just hanging out and spending TIME with the person? Have you ever considered just listening to them and finding out what they think?
  5. How do you feel about the definition given here about us being created in the image of God? Does it change the way you will talk to and relate with God in the future? Does it change the way you will share God with people who don’t yet believe? Does God’s LOVE motivate you to share His love with someone who doesn’t yet accept Him?
  6. Score yourself (scale of 1-10) on how good you are at getting rest and enjoying what God provides? Are you good at resting or are you always too busy to fit anything else into your schedule (spending time with friends, family, church)? Would you consider including other people (church and unchurched) in what you’re already doing so you can fellowship and try to make new disciples of Jesus?
  7. After going through all the points for Genesis 1, do you think that God is good? Do we have a right to question Him or be mad at Him? If He created all of this for us and put us in charge, do you think there might be reasons behind why we suffer? Do you think that He’s out to get us, strike us down with lightning, and/or ignoring us?

The 3 R’s: What does a balanced church look like?

Day 1

A few years back, I saw an incredible performer while I was on vacation with my family. He was a magician and a juggler. But he also did this amazing plate spinning trick. I have no idea how he did it. He had several plates spinning all at once, he was juggling, and he was talking. I have trouble doing even one thing at a time, so this particular trick amazed me! He was awesome. Nevertheless, thinking back about him leads me to ponder about how I spend my time. In general, people spend the bulk of their time on what they deem important. Indeed, what they SAY is not important. What they actually DO in practice tells the tale. Moreover, if you look at a person’s checkbook, you can REALLY tell what they prioritize.

Churches are no different. Some churches focus on Bible study. Some focus on mission. Some focus on fellowship activities. Usually Christians and churches are focused and good at one thing (whatever that may be). Yet when we focus on one thing too much, we ignore other important matters. Jesus gave us a pretty straightforward mission (to make disciples). Unfortunately, it’s very easy to get distracted from that mission and get sidetracked. So what’s the answer? How do we keep all of those plates spinning at once? How do we not lose focus on making disciples, still have time to go to work, and find the time to raise a family? That’s a great question! I’m so glad you asked!

May I suggest the 3 R’s for the well balanced local church (Reaching Out; Relating In; Reuniting Up)? If we, as the church, are to be committed to connecting with God and with people around the table and in the community, we must be able to achieve a balance. Getting overwhelmed and burned out is NOT a fun place to be. I’ve been there and done that! Moreover, each of the three R’s includes an intentional “ing” at the end because each one suggests ongoing action. The truth is that this is a lifestyle we live rather than a product we consume.

Reaching Out (to non-believers).

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough” (Matt.13:33 NLT).

Reaching out is at the top of the list simply because it’s the last thing Jesus told us to do before He ascended into heaven. Therefore, it should be the first thing we do! It should be the freshest mission on our minds as believers. We are to make disciples. And the only way we can do that is to reach out. This is both an individual effort and the collective responsibility of the church. Yet it can’t just be something we study about and know. We must put this into action and spend as much time doing it as we spend preparing for a Sunday morning worship service. Yes. Read that line again. I said it. It’s out there!

Reaching out means that we get out into the community and into the lives of people that don’t know Jesus. It is true that not everyone has the gift of evangelism. Not everyone can meet new people, become their best friend on the spot, start sharing the good news, and make a new disciple of Jesus with one hand tied behind their back (I can’t do that either). However, everyone has someone in their life (friend, coworker, family member, etc.) that doesn’t know Jesus. Everyone can pray for opportunities and seek out ways to build relationships with people. In addition, we don’t have to do it alone. That’s what our Missional Communities (MC’s) are for as we each use our unique, God-given gifts.

Furthermore, as we build relationships with people that don’t know Jesus, we invite them into community with us and our MC as we do life together. That way, for those who are not particularly knowledgeable enough (or confident enough) to answer the tough questions, we have someone in our MC to connect them with who can. This is how the group can work together on mission instead of inviting everyone to a Sunday service where the “pastor” has to lead, shepherd, and convert everyone. That’s how we created the mess we are in today. That’s why our churches are shrinking. And that’s why our pastors are burning out and quitting the ministry. It’s simply not healthy, biblical, or practical.

The better picture is the one Jesus gave us about the yeast working through the dough (Matt.13:33). Ancient yeast and modern yeast might not be exactly the same, but the point is the same. The yeast works all the way through the dough and causes it to grow. Over time, the results are undeniable. Even though it happens slowly, the yeast grows. So as individuals and MC’s get out into the community and become a part of the community, they will inevitably blend in, build relationships with people, and make a difference in the long run. As the church, we can no longer expect people to come to us. We must go to them and work through the dough. They have no reason to come to us. They have no idea that they need Jesus. We must continually be reaching out to them.

This can take many forms. MC’s can be a part of a vast amount of ventures like sports, community events, and school activities. Since most families are most likely already a part of those things, all we need to do is add a bit of intentionality to what we do.  That way there’s nothing we need to ADD to our schedules. Our schedules are packed tight enough as it is. Yet since we’re already there at an event of some sort, we insert Good News. We look for opportunities to build relationships with people who don’t know Jesus.

Furthermore, it costs the church nothing! There’s no need to spend thousands of dollars on outreach events that don’t work. Just become a part of your own community! For example, throw a block party cookout for your neighbors where everybody brings food and it costs practically nothing. Or simply attend other events that you’re invited to. Just be intentional about meeting people. When people have a common reason to be at the same place at the same time, relationships will inevitably develop. And as we develop those relationships over time, lives will change (much like the yeast working through the dough) as we incorporate people into the life of our MC.

Day 2

Relating In (to each other)

“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer” (Acts 2:42 NLT).

The book of Acts gives us such a great picture of life in the first century church. Believers were reaching out like crazy, they were having meals together, praying together, meeting in houses, and studying together. They were in each other’s lives to say the least! So how did we get to where we are now in the modern church? Why do we invite people to sit and consume a show on Sunday morning as passive observers? What happened to the whole going from house to house thing? What happened to sharing belongings? What happened to being in each other’s lives on a daily basis? What happened to everyone participating? If you don’t know those answers, buy a good book on church history and you’ll be disgusted by the time you reach the fourth century! The church was just fine for the first three hundred years. It all went downhill once Christianity became legal (socially acceptable) and we started building buildings! That’s when it turned into a dog and pony show.

However, as we in the Missional Church reach out and incorporate someone into our MC, we discover what living out the book of Acts is all about! Relating in, for our church, is the life (the heartbeat) of the church. This is where all the “one-another’s” of the New Testament can happen. This is where people really feel like they belong and we become the church together. But an MC is not just a Bible study or a small group. An MC is a one-stop-shop where we can work together to reach out to the community, fellowship with each other, serve each other, have spiritual discussions, ask questions, study the Bible, build lasting friendships, pray together, make disciples, be accountable, and eat together (just to name a few). And when we’re a part of that, we’ll want to worship together as we gather as the local church. And that’s how we land at the final R (Reuniting Up).

Nevertheless, before we get to that final R, we must know that each MC is a little church. It might not be the entire local church, but each one functions as a church and as a family. There’s only so many people you can be close to at one time. Not everyone in the entire local church can be best friends. Yet we can connect with a couple families. An MC (even though there’s no set number) is usually less than twenty people. Once it gets too big, it becomes too hard for everyone to participate and know each other well.

Again, Jesus is the perfect example. He taught the large crowds for sure. But He also had the Twelve. He also had an inner circle of Three. And that’s where our blueprint for the three R’s comes from. We reach out like Jesus did. We go out into the community. We go after the one lost sheep. Once they are ready, we incorporate them into our MC as we learn to do life together. Jesus and His disciples did almost everything together. They didn’t just show up to the temple or synagogue together one day a week. They ate together, had meals in other people’s houses together, and they learned as they followed Jesus. And yes, they also worshiped together. It all works together. It’s an ongoing process. Getting people to a Sunday worship service cannot be our goal. It’s part of what we do, but it should not be the goal of the local church. It’s just one part of who we are.

If we really want to get a sense of what the church is all about (and was meant to be), being a part of an MC is the starting point. We really discover that WE ARE the church as we do life together, worship together, and go from house to house together. It’s where we can really grow in the faith. And it’s so much more than a meeting, a building, or a Sunday service. It’s a lifestyle. Furthermore, we can’t ALWAYS be reaching out. We need other believers. We need to restore each other, to challenge each other, to recharge our own batteries, to learn God’s Word, and to bear one another’s burdens as we learn to love each other just like Jesus told us to do (Gal.6:1-2; John 13:34-35). We need to be relating in (to each other).

Day 3

Reuniting Up (in worship)

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Tim.3:16-17 NLT).

We really do need to learn the Word of God. We also need to gather as the local church to worship. And two of the R’s already mentioned really help to balance out what we need to DO as well as what we need to BE as the church. Yet none of that will come to fruition if we don’t know God’s Word or gather in worship. And worship gatherings are a great way to teach the local gathered church. When all the MC’s come together, people can get a sense of what’s going on throughout the whole church and not just their MC. We get a sense of the bigger picture when the whole church gathers and as we hear stories of people coming to the faith, what other MC’s are doing in their neighborhoods, as we eat together, and as we learn God’s Word together.

A Sunday Gathering (or whatever day you worship) can generate a lot of energy and enthusiasm. It can recharge us for the week. It can inspire us and our MC’s to think outside the box and to try new things that other groups are doing. A Sunday Gathering allows us to receive our marching orders and catch the vision from our leaders. We really do need to sit under the teaching of God’s Word from somebody who really knows it and has studied it. It doesn’t mean that they need to have letters behind their name, but it does need to be a chosen servant of God who is called for that specific purpose. We really need to be taught by those who know, those who are doing it, and those who can guide us along the way.

Nothing irritates me more than someone who doesn’t back up what they teach. It is impossible for someone to pastor a Missional Church if they do not live it out on a daily basis. Being a pastor is more than just being a good speaker. It helps to be a skilled speaker (so you don’t put people to sleep) but it also helps to speak from experience. Otherwise, we have no business teaching God’s Word. If we don’t do it, we can’t teach it. Jesus lived out what He taught and we must do the same. So, in my humble opinion, a “teaching” pastor who only teaches on Sunday morning is unbiblical, irresponsible, and mocks the very words of Jesus.

Seriously, how can someone train church planters if they’ve never planted a church? How can someone teach the Great Commission if they never spend time with lost people? That is the ultimate hypocrisy. It just can’t be. So as we gather, we must learn God’s Word. We need to know what it says, what it means, and we need to learn how to apply it by watching what our leaders do. Our leaders aren’t perfect. We can’t do everything. But we can only teach what we know and what we do. Therefore, we need to learn from leaders that DO, not just leaders who teach words alone.

We also need to sing together. I know some people like singing about as much as getting a root canal, but did you know that we’re told to do it? It’s in the Bible! “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts” (Col.3:16 NLT). It doesn’t say we need to sing well, but singing is a great way to worship and praise God. And if it’s what He wants, that’s what we should want, even if it’s not necessarily our favorite thing to do. Nevertheless, music inspires, encourages, lifts up, and motivates us to action at the same time we are giving praise to God.

Finally, we are also required to meet together as the church. We can’t forget that the early church gathered for worship and was told to not give it up. “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NLT). When we gather as the local church, we do learn God’s Word and praise Him in song as mentioned. In addition, it’s also a way of getting our message out to everyone at once.

Each local church has a specific DNA that makes it unique. Each local church has a certain vision and a way they carry it out. But it’s hard to do that and generate energy if we don’t meet together on a regular basis. Moreover, it’s totally legal (for now)! We can, so why wouldn’t we? The day is coming when we will have to go back into hiding like the early church. So why not make the most of every opportunity we have now (Eph.5:15-17)? Why not gather together? Why not eat together? Why not get to know each other better? Why not worship together? Why not learn together? Why not train together? We were meant to connect with God and with people. That’s God’s design. And as we do that more and more, hopefully it will inspire us to want to share it with other people as we reach out more.

The point of the three R’s is achieving a balance in what we do. Instead of just being an institution that teaches knowledge, let’s back it up with applied action! Let’s keep a never-ending circle going of Reaching Out, Relating In, and Reuniting Up. That’s a basic and a biblical structure for the local, Missional Church. How each individual church does that is up to them. Yet we must be more than a Pharisee Training Camp. We can’t constantly learn knowledge and perform rituals without application. We can’t expect other believers to do what we’re not willing to do ourselves. We might not all play the same role, but we all can be a part of the Great Commission by using the gifts we have been given. “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another (1 Peter 4:10 NLT; c.f. Rom.12:4-9; Eph.4:11-16).

Day 4

Questions to consider…

1. How can you and/or your MC reach out on a consistent basis to the people in your neighborhood that don’t know Jesus? Brainstorm together and make a list of things you’d like to try. Put daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly things on the calendar that you’d like to try. And as you meet people pray for them by name!

2. What does it mean to do life together? Does it seem overwhelming to think about? How can you balance eating together, hanging out, reaching out, being accountable, praying together, and learning together while not neglecting your responsibilities at work and at home?

3. Before being a part of a Missional church and/or MC, what was your perception of what the church is? Describe what you thought going to “church” was then and what you believe “church” to be now.